January 26, 2006 11:36 AM PST

Sony puts Aibo to sleep

It's the oldest story in the book: Robotic dog turns up on your doorstop looking cute and winsome, learns a few words and tricks, and then gets canceled just as you've gotten to love it.

As part of its ongoing cost-cutting and reorganization effort, Sony has cut its line of robotic Aibo dogs, along with another, more-expensive, humanoid robot called the Qrio, which was never sold as a product.

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Video: Aibo scrapbook, part I
In 2002, Aibo tried its paw at skateboarding.

According to a company representative, more than 150,000 Aibos have been sold since they went on the market in 1999. But the overall company is in the midst of an historic belt-tightening, and the robotics unit didn't make the cut.

"Our core businesses are electronics, games and entertainment, but the focus is going to be on profitability and strategic growth," said Sony spokeswoman Kirstie Pfeifer. "In light of that, we've decided to cancel the Aibo line."

Sony's $2,000 electronic dog had always fallen more in the gee-whiz category than into the realm of viable mainstream consumer product, though it has helped unleash dozens of lower-tech plastic knockoffs, as well as a few big-brand copycats.

Click here to Play

Video: Aibo scrapbook, part II
In 2003, Aibo's ears got floppy.

On its debut, Aibo was both an early use of Sony technologies such as the Memory Stick and its proprietary embedded operating system, as well as advanced robotics technology from the company's research and development labs.

Over time, the dog became more sophisticated, with the latest version able to speak 1,000 words; react (in theory) appropriately to an owner's commands and motions; keep blogs, complete with pictures taken by cameras behind its eyes; and play music.

The product inspired an online fan base that posted pictures taken by their dogs, which--unsurprisingly, given Aibo's diminutive stature--often tended to be of ankles or table legs.

The demise of Sony's robots do mark a victory of sorts for U.S. robot makers like iRobot. Most U.S. manufacturers years ago decided that little market demand existed for robot companions and instead aimed their research and design efforts at robots that would perform jobs that are mundane, repetitive or too dangerous for humans. Workhorse Technologies, for instance, invented a robot that combs abandoned mine shafts.

"Ever since Rosie from 'The Jetsons,' robots have been the next big thing, but the business case was never there. It is easy to build a robot that is prohibitively expensive," Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot, said in a 2004 interview.

The remaining Aibo robots will continue to be sold at the SonyStyle online store and at other retailers until inventory runs out. Sony will continue to show off the Qrio at shows and other venues, but will not pursue new development.

Pfeifer said the research knowledge gained from the project could find its way into future products but that Aibo and Qrio would not be revived.

The company will provide customer support for the latest version of the Aibo for seven years, Pfeifer added. Which is 49 years in dog years, surely enough to bring those orphaned critters through a comfortable middle age.

CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.

14 comments

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Sounds like a nice $200 toy...
... how much did it actually cost??????


$2000.00 ??????????????

No wonder Sony dumped it
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No kidding!
A couple hundred sounds about right, I might even buy one myself to bug my real dog. But two grand? Sounds grossly inflated for what the thing actually did. I'd be willing to bet it could be made much less expensive.
Posted by Michael Grogan (308 comments )
Link Flag
Sounds like a nice $200 toy...
... how much did it actually cost??????


$2000.00 ??????????????

No wonder Sony dumped it
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No kidding!
A couple hundred sounds about right, I might even buy one myself to bug my real dog. But two grand? Sounds grossly inflated for what the thing actually did. I'd be willing to bet it could be made much less expensive.
Posted by Michael Grogan (308 comments )
Link Flag
Overpriced Garbage
I knew when this first came out it wouldn't make it.
Posted by PCCRomeo (432 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They are awesome...
and sell on ebay for $3000+ now
Posted by racer329 (3 comments )
Link Flag
Overpriced Garbage
I knew when this first came out it wouldn't make it.
Posted by PCCRomeo (432 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They are awesome...
and sell on ebay for $3000+ now
Posted by racer329 (3 comments )
Link Flag
They should also dump
Memory sticks and the many versions of it. Their propriatory music compression system should go too. I don't know why they insist on being odd man out. Is it pride or arrogence. Well if they don't mind the losses, neither will I. I hope they go bust by 2010.
Posted by mrobzo (65 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They should also dump
Memory sticks and the many versions of it. Their propriatory music compression system should go too. I don't know why they insist on being odd man out. Is it pride or arrogence. Well if they don't mind the losses, neither will I. I hope they go bust by 2010.
Posted by mrobzo (65 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Get a Real Pet
I think it's funny that people are willing to spend two grand on a robotic dog, when they can get a much more sophisticated version for free---a REAL dog. Are robotic pets really necessary? If anyone really prefers the convenience of a robotic pet to the spontenaity of a real one, that person must be a major geek.
And at two grand a pet, a sucker as well.
Posted by Michael G. (185 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Robotic pets are more easly housebroken...
... and you can out them in a closet for a week or two while you go
on a trip. Pet food is no problem. Don't have to take them for a
walk. Just think of all you can save by paying $2000.00. ;-)
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
Get a Real Pet
I think it's funny that people are willing to spend two grand on a robotic dog, when they can get a much more sophisticated version for free---a REAL dog. Are robotic pets really necessary? If anyone really prefers the convenience of a robotic pet to the spontenaity of a real one, that person must be a major geek.
And at two grand a pet, a sucker as well.
Posted by Michael G. (185 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Robotic pets are more easly housebroken...
... and you can out them in a closet for a week or two while you go
on a trip. Pet food is no problem. Don't have to take them for a
walk. Just think of all you can save by paying $2000.00. ;-)
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
 

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