Death: Pets versus robot dogs. Who wins?

Sony’s robot dog, Aibo, is dying. But it’s achieved a surprising comparison with its canine doppleganger. 

Although Aibo has been hugely successful, selling 150,000 models between 1999 and 2006, Sony has stopped repairing them. Heart broken owners of the robot dog now rely on hackers, and home technicians to achieve the life saving operations the robot dogs require. 

The love for Aibo from their owners is remarkable. A similar behaviour to established pet - person relationships. Some even resorting to methods of farewell reserved for humans and family pets. These robot funerals are captured in this great video by the New York Times (The Family Dog via @nytvideo). 

This strong pet type bond being the successful result of the variable characteristics programmed into the robot dogs. Making them all somewhat unique. Or at least appearing that way for the convinced owners. Certainly the owners talk about the development stages of Aibo similarly to the stages of a real family pet. And now they talk sadly about the end of Aibo’s life as the potential death from a lack of parts starts to materialise. 

Up till last year Sony were supplying parts, but now the repairs have to be done with parts from redundant un-loved robot dogs. Like some grotesque sci-fi story of body part sales in a post apocalyptic future. From a lab full of these parts and half built Aibos, the repair guy in the video reflects on the ultimate situation of all the parts running out. “So one day they will all be gone”.

Aibo has significantly outlasted many other products and services created around 1999. For example, Phones often last far less, at an average of 2 years. Apps weren't even around at the time of Aibo release. Its life span being more in line with TVs at 15 years. It hasn’t quite achieved the length of a Satellite though at 25 years. 

A novel, and appropriate comparison would compare its lifespan with pets. Mice and Hamsters at 3 years, Gerbils last about as long as a laptop at 4 years, rabbits and cats between 9-13, but as a beautiful coincidence, Aibo has lived for the average lifespan of a Dog at 15 years. Although targeted as a quirky alternative to a real pet, I bet many of the Sony production team wouldn’t have imagined it lasting quite as long as a real dog. What a wonderful coincidence.