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• AIBO ERS-210

ERS-210-headersmSONY’S 2nd AIBO was the ERS-210, which had smaller ears and a shorter tail.  Aesthetic differences aside, the ERS-210 had name imprinting and voice recognition capabilities which were absent in the ERS-110, allowing users to more naturally interact with it.  A “mature” ERS-210 could understand and react to 50 spoken commands.  What’s more, it had improved mobility (20 DOF instead of 18), more facial expression LEDs, and additional touch sensors in its chin and back (adding to the one on its head).  All of these extras came at a reduced cost, from $2500 for the ERS-110 down to $1500 for the ERS-210, and it was available both on the internet and in retail stores.

Some of the new features included the ability to take photos.  Simply telling the ERS-210 to “Take a photo” would cause it to take a snapshot of whatever it was looking at.  If you suggested “Let’s play!”, the ERS-220 would attempt to mimic the rise and fall of your voice in a round of copycat.  If you said “Let’s dance” it would perform a dance routine accompanied by its own light show and sounds.  Expected commands like “sit” and “lie down” were also accounted for.

With SONY selling approximately 50,000 units at cost (or even at a loss in the case of the ERS-110s), it was important to begin selling software for the AIBO on SONY’s proprietary memory stick format.  Among the first of these expansion modules were: AIBO Life ($90) allowing users to raise their AIBO from a “pup” to a “mature” adult; Hello AIBO ($80-100) allowing users to skip  the time necessary to raise a gregarious pet; AIBO Party which allowed owners to play games like rock-paper-scissors; and the AIBO Fun Pack which allowed  users to view the ERS-210′s photos and diary entries it automatically generated based on the day’s activities.

It was around the time of its release that SONY and their customers had a slight clash. Crafty AIBO owners managed to hack Sony’s proprietary R-CODE programming language and were writing new behaviors and motions all on their own. Sony sent cease-and-desist letters which were met by a protest letter from thousands of AIBO owners around the world. The scuffle ended amicably when Sony released a free OPEN-R SDK, allowing AIBO owners to program custom applications for non-commercial use.

This led to an interesting development. Did you know that the AIBO has been used for many years as a serious research tool for scientists and roboticists around the world? It’s true. The AIBO may not look like much, but it provides a relatively cheap standard platform for testing complex artificial intelligence. And because the AIBO has a camera and on-board computer, its essentially a laptop on legs allowing for completely autonomous behavior.

Teams of scientists from all over the world gathered for RoboCup soccer tournaments for a decade to test their custom A.I. algorithms against those of their peers in a game of AIBO soccer. Teams were composed of 5 Aibos each, competing to push a ball across a small in-door soccer field to the goal.  In 2009, the AIBO was replaced by Aldebaran Robotics’ NAO humanoid as the new standard league.

By the summer of 2001 SONY released three limited edition colors for the ERS-210 (Mazeran Green, Everest White, and Sapphire Violet) and some new software expansion sticks.  AIBO Messenger ($150) allowed your AIBO to alert you to new emails with a bark, read the email aloud, and read text from certain websites.  AIBO Navigator ($150) allowed users to take control of their AIBO using their PC.  And AIBO Master Studio ($500) which was a motion editor allowing users to generate their own custom motion routines.

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Image credit:
SONY | Impress Robot Watch

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