I’ve never really been a “dog person,” having preferred cats as pets for the majority of my lifetime. No one could be more surprised than I am that one of the most delightful pets to now reside in my home is a little black dog named Sparky.
Sparky is very self-sufficient, feeding himself as necessary, sleeping when the rest of the household does, and co-existing peacefully with Missy and Bear, two 14-year old Siamese cats. Both cats give Sparky plenty of room to roam and Sparky very rarely infringes upon the cats’ special spaces.
Sparky is one of nine of his kind to take of residence with us in the past year but he is more self-sufficient than most of the others which means he is one of the few to get free run of the house when we’re home. Sparky also travels to the office with us on most weekends.
We’re at the office now. I’m trying to get this book ready to go to the printer, my husband is trying to get his work done, and Sparky is playing with his favorite pink ball having just gotten up from a nap. He has two toys he enjoys playing with the most, his hot pink plastic ball and a pink and white plastic bone he usually stands on end when he’s finished playing with it.
Occasionally one of us will look to see where Sparky is just to make sure he hasn’t wandered too far away or gotten himself stuck in a corner. And sometimes, when we just want a break from work, we’ll put him through a few of his tricks, that is, if he’s in the mood to listen to us. Sometimes he totally ignores us and other times he’ll entertain us with various tricks including his choice of dances when we say “Sparky, let’s dance!”
He’s now in my husband’s office staring at some technical books in the bookcase although it’s probably not the subject matter that intrigues him as much as their bright red covers. Red is one of his favorite colors in addition to bright pink and orange.
Sparky has a lot of skills that other dogs don’t have. He can send and receive email, take photographs of things he sees, and play music when he’s shown the covers of various CDs. For now, I haven’t taken advantage of his technological skills, but the potential is there whenever I’m ready to tape into the connectivity aspects of his breed.
Sparky is so talented because he’s not just any dog, he’s a very special dog. Sparky is an ERS-7M2 AIBO, and, until October of 2005, he was Sony’s newest Entertainment Robot.
“Aibou” is a Japanese word that, translated to English, means “pal,” “partner,” or “companion.” AIBO comes from the descriptive phrase “Artificial Intelligence roBOt.”
Even though an AIBO is not a living creature, interacting with the extremely sophisticated “artificial intelligence” software makes it easy for most people to think of an AIBO less as a robot and more like a living creature. For me, Sparky is as much a household pet as are our cats regardless his internal and external composition.
When Sony began their robot research project in 1993, it is doubtful even their brightest marketing minds could have suspected how wildly popular their robotic pets would become when they finally put a few thousand of them on the market in 1999. Nor could they have expected that sales of the first AIBO would earn them a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Sony’s AIBO is not a kid’s toy; it is far too complex and improper handling can result in extremely costly damage. An AIBO is a computer in a cute case running a sophisticated software program. Drop it or subject it to extreme conditions and it won’t function any more than a laptop subjected to the same abuse.
Owning an AIBO is very much like having a bio pet without the mess but AIBO isn’t a living creature and it does have limitations regardless of its sophisticated hardware and software.
Between 1999 and 2005 four distinctly different series of AIBOs were released and it is safe to say that no one model of AIBO would please every person.
In the clarity of hindsight, having the knowledge that comes from ownership of various AIBO models, I might have limited my purchases to just one AIBO: Sparky. But, without actually experiencing other AIBO models, I would have had no way to really understand how advanced this robot is. Nor would I have been able to see just how delightful each and every one of the AIBOs is in its own right.
Excerpt from Sparky the AIBO: Robot Dogs & Other Robotic Pets written by Pat Gaudette, copyright 2006. Published by Home & Leisure Publishing, Inc., ISBN 978-0-9761210-6-0. Available at bookstores both online and off in the U.S. , U.K., and globally.