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• AIBO ERS-110

ERS110-headerIn 1997, Sony’s Digital Creatures Laboratory began work on what would define an entirely new type of consumer product: the entertainment robot.  In May 1999 SONY launched the AIBO ERS-110 (AI for Artificial Intelligence and BO for robot; ERS for Entertainment Robot System; and aibo means “companion” or “pal” in Japanese).

The first production model was designed by the famous artist Sorayama Hajime, who gained esteem in the ’80s for his pin-up style paintings depicting chrome-plated female robots and scintillating women.   Although the ERS-110 lacked speech recognition, users could issue commands with a remote, and it had a camera in its nose which allowed it to perceive the world, speakers for auditory functions, and a touch sensor on top of its head to respond to a user’s handling.  The ERS-110 had 18 degrees of freedom, allowing it to mimic the actions of a real dog, all of which were controlled by an on-board computer with a memory card slot to expand its capabilities (sold separately).

The initial batch of 3,000 units – offered only online – sold out  to Japanese customers in 20 minutes.  Meanwhile in the United States SONY’s servers crashed as thousands of customers competed for the 2,000 units allocated for sale outside Japan.  SONY racked up another 135,000 orders when it offered another 10,000 units in November 1999 of the ERS-111 (a limited edition color scheme) and 30,000 units in February 2000.  The unexpected success of the AIBO, which wasn’t designed for any practical purpose, was rivaled only by SONY’s Walkman and PlayStation brands, both of which had a huge impact on their respective markets.

My first and only hands-on experience with an AIBO was with the ERS-110 at the Game Developer’s Conference back in March of 2000. It was being displayed at a SONY booth which had a small maze set up to show off the AIBO’s ability to navigate complex environments. It was having a difficult time of it, and seemed very confused. It also looked like it was made of cheap plastic and had wobbly legs, so naturally I scoffed at the price when the rep told me it was $2500 (in fact, the Aibo ERS-110 was recalled due to faulty legs, which had to be replaced).  However, that was just the first model.  SONY would refine its design and release more models in the following years.

Despite my gut reaction, prices haven’t come down in the second-hand market.  Since SONY stopped production of all AIBO models in 2006, the limited number of them in the wild makes them a rare and rewarding collector’s item.



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