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 He’ll wait for you forever—No, I mean it!

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 Photo by eerkmans on Flickr

 These adorable robot dogs, collectively called “Aibo” (an acronym meaning “partner” or “pal” in Japanese) have been melting Japanese hearts ever since they loped on the scene, mechanical tongues wagging. In the land of the cute, I had no doubt at all they would be popular—but I confess I didn’t know just how much so! Let’s take a peek into the lives of these little guys and see what all the woofing’s about, shall we? 

 

It’s not what it looks like, folks—He’s just recharging

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Photo by sekido on Flickr

Of course, despite how many of their owners no doubt feel, these canines aren’t really alive—when they need recharging, they head straight for the, um, recharger! It looks like a cross between an ordinary cellphone cradle and a Borg energy node, but of course that’s just me (especially the last part). Well, I guess that saves the good master the price of dog food, not to mention conserving space in what is often very cramped quarters. Rest up, buddy. You’re gonna need it! 

 

 Is he fetching or throwing here? 

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Photo by RocketScientistJan on Flickr

When these guys are sufficiently charged, it’s really kind of amazing just how doglike many of them can be; Apparently this one can catch a ball! Personally I’d rather play fetch with my Golden Retriever back home, but I see where they’re going with this anyway.  

 

I wish I could get my real dog to obey like that!

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Photo by googlisti on Flickr

 I understand that some of the Aibo models even respond to voice commands, like “O-te!” (“Paw/hand,” in other words, “Shake!”) When the time comes to face our robot overlords in the not-too-distant future, I certainly hope that somebody remembers to program a “shake” function just so that we can start off on friendly terms! 😉 

 

Oh, coooome ooooon!!

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Photo by ktsugita on Flickr

Of course, those not content with regular-doggy moves like ball-fetching and shaking may want to consider more advanced Aibo models that can do things like punch, kick, and possibly even free the human race from The Matrix using Kung-fu. OK, I really don’t know about that last one, but I have to ask: Aren’t we going just a tad overboard here?  

 

This is cute. Nuff said.

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Photo by Rene Mayorga on Flickr

 Overboard or not, in a society where keeping a “real” pet is often neither a fiscal nor spatial possibility, Aibo is kind of a cool alternative, don’t you think? The kids above certainly seem to agree.

 

In my world, that would be a Star Trek poster 

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Photo by Colin McMillen on Flickr

As far as what I’ve seen in the news, though, Aibo dogs don’t just appeal to children—there are whole competitions devoted to showing them and their abilities off. Would calling them “dog shows” be a bit of a stretch? Probably, but such events are no doubt pretty exciting for owners and robot-enthusiasts. Having been to my fair share of Star Trek conventions (OK, personal geek alert ;-)), I can relate. There is a whole community of Aibo-nerds out there, folks.

 

I’m undecided on the kawaii factor here…

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Photo by Bitboy on Flickr

 

…but pretty sure here!

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Photo by Bitboy on Flickr

 So why has Aibo been so popular, especially in Japan? Is it just because having one saves money and space? Or because of the cool things these robo-doggies can do? No, like our canine friends, I think that people of every stripe yearn for some unconditional companionship and love. These robots come in enough kawaii varieties that there is bound to be one for every personality. And once people become attached, I heard that they tend to take their Aibo pretty seriously, many going as far as to call it part of their family unit. 

 

I dunno, something about this creeps me out 

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Photo by roboticage® on Flickr

So with so much love for Aibo to go around, you would think they’d be equally loved by the company who created them. In fact, though, Sony has recently stopped offering repairs for Aibo products, prompting many owners to undertake repairs themselves—if that isn’t true love, I don’t know what is. Personally I’d rather be able to call my personal vet, but again, that’s just me. 

 

Sniff, and ye shall find

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Photo by jeanbaptisteparis on Flickr

 Here’s to hoping that Aibo continues to capture hearts both in Japan and around the world—if only to bring people around to the pleasure of owning a real pet. Woof, I say! 

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