Sony unveils robot dog toy

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TOKYO--Japan's Sony Corp. took the leash off of its new robot dog pet Aibo earlier this week in Tokyo. The high-tech creature with cameras for eyes and floppy ears housing microphones will go on sale in June.

The dog is about as large as a Shih Tzu, a breed popular in Japan. Sensors on the dog's head tell it when a gentle hand is brushing it and Aibo responds by wagging its tail. Camera eyes and sensors on its body allow Aibo to chase a ball and avoid crashing into walls as it runs.

Sony plans to have test sales of the robot pet with 3,000 units being put on the Japanese market at about $2,070 and 2,000 units for sale in the U.S. at $2,500 each. The robot pet will be sold over the Internet starting June 1.

The software design of Aibo is flexible and can accommodate future programs that will make the robot even more dog-like, according to the company. Present software allows Aibo (Japanese for "buddy") to do things such as sit, shake hands and play an electronic tune.

Currently, the toy cannot understand human voice commands and owners must use a remote control for commands such as "come." A memory stick data device can be plugged into Aibo for owners who have used their computers to program a few new tricks for their digital puppies.

Sony has been testing robot pets for six years and Aibo is the first product that the company has taken to market. Other electronics firms, such as rivals Matsushita and Omron, have also come out with robot pets.

Copyright May 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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