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Attack of the robot monkeys

Sony to license Aibo, hints at possibilities

Sony is planning to boost its pet robot business by launching a range of new Aibo robots at different prices and by licensing the basic hardware and software specifications to other companies.

New models of Aibo from Sony are expected to appear either later this year or next year. The company has already started talking to software developers with a view to licensing the Aibo architecture so that developers can produce their own controller software, said Yoshinao Kambe, a marketing person at Sony's Entertainment Robot Company division.

The plans, which represent a major push by Sony to turn its entertainment robot business into a profitable enterprise, were made possible by a basic design change implemented when Sony upgraded Aibo in October 2000, the first since Sony launched Aibo in May 1999.

The internal structure of the robot was redesigned so that the heart of the machine was encased in a black plastic box. This box, much like the body and brains of a human all rolled into one, was the core of Aibo and contained its central processor, main memory, battery and other key devices. The legs, head and tail that gave Aibo its unique and cute look were simply clipped onto the core.

"Based on [the core] anybody outside the company has a chance to create their own shape of robot," Kambe said. "If they want to have a monkey or pig, they can make it based on our basic standard and application."

"In the future, we are dreaming about several manufacturers making their own shape of hardware (legs and parts) and then gaming companies releasing new types of software," Kambe said. "For this business to be really successful, we need several kinds of heads and legs."

"If we release a low-budget model it will definitely extend Aibo to the kids and teenage market," Kambe said. "They really like it, but it is still too expensive. Usually in the US, the limitation is $200 to $300. We were thinking about [that price], but it's quite impossible — this is a robot."


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