Corp is planning next spring to roll out a dog-shaped pet robot
similar to its discontinued Aibo
with updated components that could allow it to control home appliances, people familiar with the matter said.
is preparing for a media event in November to show off the product, the people said. It is unclear whether the new product will use the Aibo
name and how much it will cost.
Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai
said last year at a strategy briefing that the company was developing “a robot
capable of forming an emotional bond with customers, and able to grow to inspire love and affection.” He told The Wall Street Journal
at the time that the company might make an Aibo-like dog robot.
The Nikkei newspaper reported earlier this month that Sony
was targeting spring 2018 for the release of a home robot.
project is one of Mr. Hirai’s initiatives to show that innovation is alive at the Japanese electronics maker, which was known for a string of hits going back to the transistor radio in the 1950s but has more recently focused on shoring up profitability by shrinking its portfolio. More than 100 employees are involved in Sony’s robotics projects, said people familiar with them.
is also expanding into virtual reality.
The company said Tuesday that it has a developed an experimental vehicle that eliminates windows and is packed with image sensors. The technology
could enable drivers to steer without lights in the dark because the sensors can see better than human eyes, and theme parks could use a mixed-reality function to layer digital images over real-world scenery, Sony
sold an estimated 150,000 Aibos between 1999 and 2006, at prices ranging from less than $600 to more than $2,000. Equipped with cutting-edge artificial intelligence
of that era, the robot
could greet its owner, play with a ball, dance and sing songs.
The product was discontinued as Howard Stringer, Sony’s CEO at the time, was trying to pare losses in electronics businesses, and many Aibo
engineers left the company.
The new dog-shaped robot
could feature smoother movements and prompter responses to owner commands thanks to improvements in components such as motors and sensors, said people directly involved in the product’s development. It may also feature internet connectivity that would allow the robot
to learn new tricks and control appliances in its vicinity.
The new robot
faces competition from affordable smart speakers made by the likes of Amazon.
com Inc. and Alphabet Inc.
’s Google. Amazon
has also tried to combine an appealing personality and everyday functions with its Echo speaker, which features the voice of “Alexa” answering questions and reading out weather forecasts.
last week introduced Xperia Hello, a $1,300 cylinder-shaped smart agent, for the Japan market, but some fans have expressed disappointment that the main functions were similar to smart speakers such as the Echo that are available for about $100.
Several Japanese companies have rolled out consumer robots recently focusing on the Japanese market, including Sharp Corp.’s smartphone-hybrid humanoid Robohon, Toyota
Motor Corp.’s Kirobo and SoftBank
Group Corp.’s Pepper. None has yet reached mass penetration, owing to relatively high prices and the lack of a clear use for the products.
As the inventor of the Aibo, Sony
will encounter high expectations from consumers. “I wouldn’t buy the new Sony robot
if it fails to offer way beyond what other robots are capable of doing as entertainment robots,” said Tatsuo Matsui, a 51-year-old engineer who owns four working Aibo
Winning back trust from Aibo’s fans will also be a challenge. Treating it like a regular electronics gadget, Sony
shut down Aibo
maintenance services in 2014. Some owners who considered their Aibos nearly as family members felt abandoned.
Mr. Matsui said he hoped Sony
would resume Aibo
maintenance with the reboot of its robot
lineup. One person involved in the planning said that remained uncertain.
Source: The Wall Street Journal