When I was a kid, I wanted an AIBO. I mean, first I wanted a real dog, but when it became clear that wasn't going to happen, I wanted an AIBO instead.
Look at it! Look. At. It. AIBO was a weird little robot dog that Sony sold from 1999 to 2006. It looks like a toy, but I can assure you, this thing was as high tech as tech could be when it was introduced in 1999. People treated it as a member of their family. It could express emotions and react to touch and you could upgrade the software on your dog.
I wanted it dearly, the same way I wanted a PCMCIA sound card for my hand-me-down laptop when I was six, and begged my parents for a Palm Pilot before my freshman high school year (which, might I add, I did not get either).
Of course, technology changes at a blistering pace, and Sony finally stopped servicing the dogs last year—and according to the Wall Street Journal, the company finally ran out of spare parts, much to the chagrin of the sizeable Japanese AIBO community that apparently still exists.
But there's one man left, in a city called Chiba just outside of Tokyo, who still repairs Sony's now-defunct robot pets. I like to think of him as a dog whisperer but for motors and joints.
From the report: "Aibo owners say a thorough overhaul is necessary once a year to keep the robots functioning properly. The weakest link, many owners say, is a leg joint that can fail, preventing the dogs from walking or even getting up."
Enter 59-year-old Nobuyuki Norimatsu, a former Sony technician, and probably the only guy left who knows what to do with these old, failing dogs. He scrounges parts and fixes AIBOs for a couple hundred dollars each. Can you even imagine someone fixing old first generation iPhones in 15 years time?
One couple, according to the Wall Street Journal's report, even treat their AIBO as a daughter, make clothes for the dog, and have agreed that "whichever of the two lives longer should be cremated alongside the dog."
Norimatsu's built something of a cottage industry ensuring these dogs last that long.
There were three different generations of AIBO, with features such as voice recognition and video capture added in the product's later years. One model even came in gold. You could buy a gold coloured dog! Others came with names such as LATTE and MACARON, which were designed to have different personalities (LATTE to be "adorable" and MACARON to be "mischievous," according to a Sony press release).
But nearly a decade after AIBO ceased production, nothing has really taken its place. Sure, there's Spot, but I'd like to see you try welcoming that into your home.