Friday, October 13, 2000

Robotic 'pets' unveiled

Smart toys are cute but pricey

By Yuri Kageyama
The Associated Press

        TOKYO — Not being housebroken is just part of its charm — it makes no mess raising a furless metallic leg. And it's smart enough to remember its name.

        Sony Corp.'s new robotic pet, unveiled Thursday, is an upgraded version of its Aibo robot dog introduced in June 1999.

[photo] Sony chairman Nobuyuki Idei shows off the new Aibo Thursday in Toyko. The price: $1,500.
(Associated Press photo)
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        Billed as a companion rather than a toy — Aibo means “pal” in Japanese — the cat-sized robot is modeled after a lion cub. It listens to commands like “sit,” “dance,” and “left,” resting on its haunches, wiggling its body or waddling sideways. It purrs in an electronic melody and shines green light from its eyes when someone pats its head, back or chin.

        But the new Aibo doesn't come cheap at $1,500, although that's considerably cheaper than the $2,500 for the original Aibo. The new Aibo will be available by order in Japan, the United States and Europe from mid-November, for delivery in December.

        Several other toy manufacturers are also coming out with their own affordable entertainment robots. Tiger Electronics, a division of Hasbro Inc., said it has a much less expensive version of Aibo: its $150 I-Cybie, a fully motorized robotic dog, which will be in stores in December.

        It recognizes when it is low on batteries and develops into a mature dog the more it interacts with its owner.

        This month, Tiger is also coming out with its $50 Super Poo- Chi, an upgraded version of Poo-Chi, a robotic puppy launched in stores in April. Fisher-Price, a division of Mattel, is pitching $99.99 Rocket the Robot, an electronic puppy that does tricks. And Manley Toy Quest is shipping in December a robotic parrot, kitten and newborn puppy, all retailing for $34.99.

        Sony officials said they were serious about the robot business, foreseeing a future when much of home electronics would be computerized like robots.

        “Ten years from now, we want to become one of the pillars of Sony's business,” said Satoshi Amagai, president of Entertainment Robot Co., Sony's robot unit.

        Masayuki Yonezawa, an analyst with BNP Paribas Securities, said Sony still lacks a clear strategy for turning robots into a realistic, profitable business.

        “It's impressive how robots have become so close to the real thing,” Mr. Yonezawa said. “But a real pet is cuter.”


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