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Sony unveils latest Aibo

New Aibo robot pet more Metal Mickey than moggy

Sony unwrapped its latest Aibo entertainment robot yesterday, a futuristic-style model that looks more like a cheap knock-off of previous versions than the cuter, cuddlier models released recently.

Below the neck, the new model — the ERS-220 — bares a resemblance to Sony's first-edition Aibo, the ERS-110, and its successor, the ERS-210, but from the neck up things are drastically different. Aibo's new head, complete with 21 flashing lights and a retractable headlight, makes the new model a lot more robot-like than pet-like.

"That's really what the Aibo is — a robot and not a puppy dog or a cat," said Jon Piazza, a spokesman for Sony. "The general public thought of [Aibo] as a replacement for a pet and it really never was intended as that."

Hardware-wise, the other main changes beyond the style are in the number of joints. The new Aibo has no moveable ears or a tail and so offers 16 degrees of freedom compared to 20 on the previous model.

On the software side, Sony has updated the Aibo system software to allow for a 75-word vocabulary and enhanced photo-taking capability. A new package, Aibo Step, lets users change the noise the robot makes when it walks, and a second new package, Aibo Boost, causes the robot to become excited, curious or alert when communication with its owner goes well.

Like the ERS-210, the ERS-220 is built around a modular design, in which the head and legs clip on to a central body which houses all of the control circuitry and main battery unit. Because of this, owners of the ERS-210 will be able to buy a kit of new body parts that can be attached to the central unit of their Aibo to transform it into a unique pet. The kit will be available in December, said Piazza.

The robot-like form of the ERS-220 is in sharp contrast to the rounder, cuter styling of Latte and Macaron, which were announced in September. Those robots are Sony's first attempt at cracking the young-working-woman market and are modelled after bear cubs to appeal to women in their 20s, said the company.

The ERS-220 model will be available this month in the US and Sony is already accepting advance orders on its website — like the previous model, the new version costs around £1,050 plus VAT. Sony also plans sales in other regions.


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