Sony’s CES press conference was a big ole bag of nothing, even by Sony CES press conference standards. But one little bit toward the end did manage to impress — even managing to elicit an audible “awww” from a room full of jaded tech bloggers eagerly waiting behind a thin rope line. All it took was a pair of adorable, fresh faced robotic dogs —the long awaited return of the Aibo.
After the extremely pithy press conference wound down (clocking in at a breezy 25 minutes), reps walked out from behind a hidden door and brought a pair of the robo-pups into a fake living room space — the Aibo’s natural habit, it seems. After a few seconds, it’s clear that the pup has come a long way since its lost go-round, in terms of mechanics.
Once you get passed it’s shiny plastic coat, the damn thing is surprisingly lifelike, waddling around awkwardly like a young pup still getting its bearings. Surrounded by strange faces, the dog let out a bit of a whimper, but ultimately performed admirably, responding to a back scratch and recognizes its master’s face. It even managed to sit on command every once in a while, which is really all you can ask of a young dog.
Even the OLED eyes are surprisingly effective. As multiple Furby reboots have taught us, that sort of thing can go horribly wrong, blowing past the uncanny valley into something even more deeply horrifying.
And then there’s the price, which is a hell of a lot less appealing than those electronic puppy dog eyes. It’s still only announced for Japanese release, which will run you 198,000 JPY (~$1,735). And then there’s the $26/month service fee — which, I don’t know, I guess you’d be paying a bunch in dog food and such if it was the real thing.
Here’s hoping the company maintains that for a while this time out. The last batch of Aibo owners watched their pets die a prolonged death at the hands of market forces, in a kind of Blade Runner meets Old Yeller scenario.