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banner Tuesday, 11 September, 2001, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Life with a robot dog
BBC Go Digital's Jon Wurtzel looked after Sony's intelligent Aibo for a couple of weeks to find out how much fun you can have with a robot dog.

When I first saw Aibo come out of his box, a huge smile broke out across my face.

This robot seamlessly became a him, not an it. He made me want to play with him.

It helps that Aibo is one handsome looking robot dog.

Roughly the size of a large puppy, Aibo is sleek and polished, and his movements are recognisably canine.

His flexibility seems to surpass gymnasts, and watching him stretch, prance around a room, or chase a ball is entrancing.

Satisfying experience

As an aesthetic experience, Aibo is hugely satisfying.

He also comes with some promising features.

Sony's robot-dog, the Aibo
Aibo can react to a name
You can program him to respond to a specific name.

A camera within the dog enables him to see and can be wirelessly connected to your computer, allowing you to see the world through his perspective.

You can also change his software so that he becomes a puppy, complete with crying and demanding behaviour.

Since one of the principal advantages of a robot dog is that that you don't have to clean up after him, walk or take care of him, I didn't want to deal with a mewing puppy.

I chose the fully developed, mature dog mode.

Emotional response

Aibo inspired a strong emotional response in me. Without hesitation, I looked at, stroked and treated him like he was a dog.

When he did something good like dancing for me, I enjoyed petting him and seeing his enthusiastic response to my attention.

Sony Latte Aibo
Aibo's latest dog, Latte
That was, however, as far as the relationship between man and dog was able to go.

No further connections grew between us, and I grew increasingly frustrated with my inability to develop a mutual relationship with Aibo.

Training him to obey commands he was programmed to respond to grew increasingly difficult and frustrating.

This is a robot and not a thick-headed terrier, and I didn't want or enjoy the challenge of training and disciplining him.

Let down

What became increasingly clear is the power and importance of the emotional relationship with this robot dog.

When I tried to develop a relationship with him, I felt let down. I stopped referring to him solely as a he, and started referring to him as the robot.

This deflation felt even more acute because he had so successfully generated emotional cues and responses with me.

He had seemingly promised me a canine relationship, and then failed to deliver.

As art, Aibo is a tremendous success. He makes a great interactive sculpture, and is fun and impressive to watch.

But, as a pet dog, Aibo fell down.

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See also:

10 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Reading your mouse movements
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