TOKYO Sony Corp. has introduced a new model of its Aibo robot dog, the ERS-220, that differs from its predecessors in its enhanced functionality and futuristic design. The robot is composed of modules that can be popped on and off to change the unit's appearance.
"The [latest] 300 series has a lovely appearance and targets digital pets. The [previously available] 200 series features high-tech taste targeting technically savvy users," said Tad Otsuki, deputy president of Entertainment Robot Co., a division of Sony Electronics Inc.
The futuristic look of the entertainment robot was designed by Shoji Kawamori, known in Japan as a designer of animated science fiction movies.
At the heart of the new Aibo is a core system the size of about two paperbacks. The core unit includes a 64-bit MIPS processor, 32 Mbytes of SDRAM, a Memory Stick, a PC card interface and a battery pack that keeps the robot running about 1.5 hours. The robot's head, tail and legs are connected to the core unit via 8-pin Open-R connectors.
The new model consists of six modular units and the core unit, and features the company's Open-R architecture.
Open-R was unveiled in 1998 when Sony first demonstrated an Aibo prototype. The architecture enables changes to be made to a robot by exchanging hardware modules connected to the core unit.
"This new Aibo embodies the Open-R architecture in not only the body itself but also in options such as wireless communications," Otsuki said.
The Open-R architecture employs Aperios, Sony's proprietary real-time operating system, and the Open-R bus with 8-pin connectors that link the system core and hardware modules at a transfer rate of 12 Mbits/second.
The new Aibo is assembled from seven modules. Sony in December will introduce the Aibo Transformation Kit, a modular hardware kit that includes the new Aibo's head, tail and four legs.
Sony second-generation Aibo, the ERS-210, was shaped like a baby lion and used the same modular configuration consisting of a core unit and outer hardware modules, though this configuration was not clearly disclosed when the robot came to market in November 2000.
The transformation kit will change the ERS-210 Aibo into the new, futuristically shaped ERS-220 Aibo just by connecting the kit modules to the ERS-210's core unit. The kit, however, costs two-thirds the price of Aibo itself, so it is an expensive dress-up "doll."
Based on the Open-R platform, Aibo can be expanded in terms of behavior, action and even hardware modules that are developed by third parties.
Sony has started licensing its Open-R architecture to third parties but has not yet licensed its hardware. "But if a third party develops a 'running leg' module, we would license it as an Aibo module. The Open-R platform provides business chances to third parties," said Otsuki. Some partners are already marketing growing software libraries of motions.
The new Aibo is equipped with 16 points of movement or joints. It has a 100,000-pixel CMOS image sensor and multiple touch sensors located on the robot's head, face and tail, providing for varying degrees of response and increased interaction between the owner and the robot.
Aibo Navigator 2 and Aibo Master Studio 1.1, optional Aibo-ware software, will also entertain tech-savvy users. The first version was introduced early this year after the launch of the ERS-210 Aibo lion.
Navigator maneuvers the 200 series Aibo via a wireless local-area network that complies with IEEE 802.11b. Owners can control Aibo with a wireless LAN PC card from a PC at distances up to 300 feet. Master Studio enables users to program behavior, motion, sound, LED lighting and voice recognition.
Sony intends to sell about 10,000 units of the ERS-220 worldwide. In the United States, the Entertainment Robot Co. will accept pre-sales orders for the robot starting the first week in November and will start marketing the product in late November, with suggested retail prices starting at $1,500.