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A wireless robot dog for Christmas

Dec 16, 20024 mins
Network Security

We’ve banged on about Active Server Pages for a few weeks and we think we need to take a break. And with Christmas coming, we’ll take the opportunity to look at a piece of equipment that you might want to have around your IT shop: the Sony AIBO ERS220, a robot dog that is arguably the most sophisticated consumer robot available and has built-in wireless support.

The AIBO robot consists of a core module that contains the battery, processor and memory (actually a MIPS processor running at 192 MHz with 32M bytes of RAM) onto which you snap the head, tail and four leg modules.

The core module also has a slot for an 802.11b wireless card and another that takes a Sony Memory Stick. The Memory Stick is the storage media for AIBO’s programs, and you can buy programs for different functions.

What’s really cool is that an AIBO can actually walk. It can move forward and backward, turn left and right as well as sit and kick. There are buttons on each “foot” to detect ground contact, although the AIBO can’t be left on a table because it can’t detect edges and will plummet happily to its destruction.

The head and tail modules have lots of red and blue lights for show, a built-in sound generator that makes way cool sounds during operation, depending on which program is being run, and a pop-up light on the head.

We were sent two program packs with our review unit. The first was AIBO Explorer. The packaging says that the pack will “Upgrade desire for adventure” and “With emotions, instincts, learning functions and cool situation evaluations, colorful movements and expressions are realized.” Oh.

What you get with this pack is a robot that responds to stimuli (vision, speech recognition and touch), can chase the supplied pink ball and pink bone, and has what appear to be emotions.

Robots need love too

Unfortunately, one of its “needs” is to be “loved” and so this program demands to be petted, otherwise the robot behaves sulkily. If there is one thing we do not want, it is a whiny, needy robot.

Be that as it may, the overall AIBO system with the AIBO Explorer pack is very impressive. But much more impressive is the AIBO Navigator pack because it links your PC to the AIBO using an 802.11b wireless link.

This pack has a built-in Web server so you can modify the robot’s basic network parameters such as the IP address and wireless setup, although if you have a Memory Stick adapter in your PC you can run the supplied configuration software and directly set the values.

Once configured, you can remotely direct the AIBO, view what its camera sees (and point the camera by turning its head), listen through its microphone, play sounds through its speakers, replay prerecorded sequences of movements and take pictures.

You’ll find that steering AIBO is tricky – robotic walking is not accurate, and we spent a lot of time trying to maneuver away from objects on which we got snagged.

Our real dogs were very nervous around the AIBO but refrained from biting it, which pleased us because, at about $1,500, that would not have been a good thing.

Would we want an AIBO robot? Sure, it is extremely cool, but we’re not sure what we’d actually do with it unless there’s a program that would make it weed the garden or round up the office dust bunnies.

The AIBO is, without doubt, way cool, and as a technology demonstration, it is impressive. We’d love to have the time to experiment with programming it (there’s a full software developers’ kit available free for download) but you know how it is – so many toys, so little time.

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Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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