We are lucky enough to have a pack of AIBOs in our lab, leftover from Robocup days of old. My student John Oberlin resurrected them, and we use them as one of our outreach platform. Another student, Eric Rosen, just had a tutorial session teaching students how to use them for outreach. My AIBO, Ella, is my main outreach platform that I use when I go into classrooms of very young children. I just finished four hours of robot activities at my son’s kindergarten classroom with Ella.
AIBO was invented by Sony. The first consumer model retailed in 1999 and retailed for $3,000. Too much for the consumer market to really take off. New models were released every year until 2006, when they were discontinued. Now they are robot antiques, and new ones are on ebay for $6,000, although you can get a used one for $500. Our AIBOs are equipped with a rich sensor package, including a camera on the snout, a microphone, two IR sensors, and joint encoders. They are fully quadrupedal and each leg has three degrees of freedom. Additionally you can actuate the ears, the tail, and the mouth, and the robot has a speaker for playing sounds such as barks. You can program the robot to sit, to lie down, to walk forward or backward, to turn left and right, wag its tail, or bark, even opening its mouth. It was added to the CMU Robot Hall of Fame because it “represents the most sophisticated product ever offered in the consumer robot marketplace.”
Sony shipped around 150,000 AIBOs before discontinuing production. We are super excited to see the new reboot.
I realized a long time ago that the best age range for me to target for outreach activities is whatever age my son currently is. (He’s five now!) So when he got old enough for preschool, I started visiting preschool classrooms of him and his cousins, and the AIBO was a natural choice to take. The first time I took AIBO to a classroom, it was clear it was a hit.I did the demo during circle time at Jay’s preschool. The silvery color, the deco rubber hollowed out ears, the wiggly tail, the buttons just capture the essence of robot to a three year old. As soon as I started unwrapping the robot, the kids crowd around, vying for who gets to turn her on. We do a programming activity where kids “program” Ella by laying out cards, like “Sit”, “Stand”, “Bark” or “Lie down.” Then I type in whatever program they did, and then she executes it! My favorite part is asking the kids to be the robot. I say “Kindergarten Execute!” and they all pretend to be puppy dogs.