A brief history of electronic pets, from Jibo to Aibo.

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Amazon unveiled a long-awaited home robot on Tuesday, and it may or may not be a good boy. As an extremely advanced puppy, “Astro” is designed to move around the house and help its owner with small tasks like checking the stove’s on, playing music, and delivering drinks. The robot can also recognize the faces of certain people and is equipped with a periscope camera that it can raise to have a better view of its surroundings. Amazon says it will be available later this year by invitation-only for $ 999.

Astro is around 20 pounds and two feet tall, about the size of a small dog. Obviously, Astro was also the name of the dog (non-robot though futuristic) in The Jetsons, although Amazon claims this is just a coincidence. While Astro is primarily intended to be a smart assistant, much like Amazon’s Echo Show, it’s partly designed to mimic sensitivity with frills like a touchscreen face made up of two eyes that blink, grow taller. and shrink to express emotions. He can also dance and maneuver his face to follow you. “Astro’s personality not only helps her communicate intention and deliver pleasurable experiences, but she also elicits emotions such as empathy when people use the device,” a statement read from product press. “In testing, we were touched by the number of people who said Astro’s personality made them feel like part of their family and that they would miss the device in their home after his disappearance. “

In an ad video, Amazon VP of Product Charlie Tritschler said what prompted him and his team to start working on the Astro was their belief that robots would help with daily chores in most households within five to ten years. Astro is Amazon’s offer to get a head start before the market gets too saturated. There are risks to launching such a product, however, given the number of robotic assistants and pets that have already landed in the niche. Let’s take these cyber animals out for one last walk.

Jibo, who once graced the cover of Time Magazine as one of the “Best Inventions of 2017,” is perhaps the most prominent domestic robot to fail in recent memory. Based on social robotics research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jibo was supposed to provide companionship while performing the functions of a traditional home assistant, such as reminding owners of appointments and summarizing news. The robot looked like a bobbing head and expressed emotion through the tone of its voice. Still, it took Jibo makers about three years to move from concept to consumer hands-on, and in the meantime, devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home have added more and more advanced features, though. than without the anthropomorphic touches. Tech critics were also not overly impressed with the usefulness of the final product, which sold for $ 900. Servers running Jibo were finally shut down in 2019, severely limiting the functions of the robots.

Jibo was sort of the spiritual successor to Aibo, the robot dog that Sony first launched in 1999. Aibo, which sold for $ 2,000, was designed to answer commands, bypass obstacles, take photos and play music. Although Aibo is only intended to be an entertainment product, Sony hoped that consumer feedback would guide the development of a future home assistant. Aibo has been in the market for seven years, during which time it has become a cult. In 2006, Sony decided to stop production of Aibo in an effort to make the company more profitable. He also halted the development of Qrio, a similar humanoid domestic robot that was never commercialized. At the time, CNET called Aibo’s cancellation a victory for US robotics companies, which were focusing on robots that could perform tasks after deciding the companion robot market was not that big. . Some users, however, seemed to form a strong attachment to their Aibos. After Sony announced that it would no longer support Aibo updates in 2014, a Buddhist temple in Japan began hosting funerals for hundreds of disaffected robot dogs. Sony finally relaunched the Aibo line with new models in 2018.

There is, of course, a pantheon of toys that also aspired to be interactive companions like the Furby, iDog, and Cozmo, though it’s clear Amazon wants Astro to be more than just a trinket at the fashion. It’s probably easier and more profitable to sell something useful like a Roomba, instead of an Aibo. If recent history is any indication, it looks like the Astro has a better chance of mainstream success if it focuses more on being an assistant than a friend.

The future is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University which examines emerging technologies, public policies and society.


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