If you were present at Sony's Aibo dog demonstration at the SAMG August meeting you would have had an exciting glimpse into the future.
While Aibo was a bit awkward on his (or her?) feet and limited in what he could do compared to a real dog he is nevertheless the first serious attempt at a self-contained automaton available as a mass produced product that will over time evolve into a fully functional robot indistinguishable from, say, a dog, or even a human , and eventually become superior to all humans and any other known biological lifeform. Be prepared - it will happen!
The reason it will happen is that, apart from the fascination, there is a strong desire for human replacement in menial tasks such as house work and sweat shops, and a need in dangerous situations such as in mining, work on the ocean floor, work in the vacuum of space, work with hazardous chemicals, work in radio-active environments, firefighting, playing for the Adelaide Crows, and the list goes on.
Nigel, from Sony, showed us how Aibo (which stands for Artificial Intelligent roBOt) could be partly disassembled by unlocking his limbs from the body. The body contains the central intelligence (main processor), plug-in Aibo-specific (pink) memory-sticks, and lithium-ion rechargeable batteries that give about 1.5 hours use on a full charge. His legs are powered by standard, small DC motors (not steppers) with potentiometers to provide positional feedback and give Aibo's legs 3 degrees of freedom. The head is a bit more complex because it houses, in addition to head positioning motors with 3 degrees of freedom, ear waggers, jaw control, a CMOS video camera for vision, an infra-red distance detector, microphone and speaker. His tail has 2 degrees of freedom. There are several touch sensors on the head, back, chin and legs. An acceleration sensor is included to provide orientation and balance control. A temperature sensor is also included.
Aibo can be fitted with a wireless LAN card with its own IP address to provide additional control from a PC either automatically or manually and using the video camera for "seeing" while also giving Aibo access to the Internet.
Aibo has most of the attributes a robot needs. That is, Aibo has 3 of the 5 senses we have. These are the senses of sight, hearing and touch (no taste and smell, at least yet). In addition, Aibo can sense distance, orientation and temperature (which are actually special cases of sight and touch).
Those present at the meeting saw Aibo use these senses and sensors to chase a ball, get back on his feet after being deliberately laid on his side and respond to some voice commands such as "sit". Unfortunately, time did not permit us to use the Life package which allows Aibo to learn simple skills, learn to recognise his name, and mature from a puppy into an adult dog.
At a price tag of $3000 maybe only little Miss Gates can expect an Aibo for Xmas - even then she will have to get it away from dad. However, it will almost certainly find its way into universities, TAFEs and some schools. What makes this even more attractive is the fact that Sony have as from June released all the software needed to program Aibo which is obtainable as a free download from the net. This makes it a extremely valuable AI experimental and/or training device.
There is no doubt that the Sony engineering team have put a lot of into the good, solid, design effort into Aibo and should be justly proud of the result that puts them well out in front of the rest of the field. Their success has led to a much anticipated release of a more advanced bipedal robot in the near future. This "son of Aibo" will obviously be a lot smarter than his parent - mirrors real life, doesn't it?
Eventually Nigel managed to prise Aibo away from the enthusiastic crowd and return him to Sony Central. I wish to thank Sony Central for lending Aibo for the night and Nigel for a very successful demonstration. I personally look forward to seeing Sony's bipedal AI device in the near future.
Have a look at the video that was taken during the meeting -
AIBO the AI dog