Sony has reintroduced Aibo, its robotic dog, to the US market. Picture: Courtesy of Sony

Washington - Sony has revealed that it's relaunching Aibo, its iconic robotic puppy dog, for the US market. 

The company introduced the first of its Aibo pets in 1999, releasing several models before discontinuing them in 2006. The new smartphone-connected model of Aibo not only revives a classic product but acts as an ambassador of the Sony brand for a new generation of Americans.

"It is an interesting reflection of Sony trying to rediscover itself," Bob O'Donnell, analyst at TECHnalysis said.

With a $2 900 (about R41 200) price tag, the puppy isn't meant to be a must-have toy for every house. The true point of Aibo is to remind Americans about Sony's capabilities, and set the stage for more to come from the company in the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics and quality consumer electronics. 

The name Aibo is a play on the phrase "artificial intelligence robot" - it's also the Japanese word for a pal - and proving its prowess in AI is more important to Sony now than it has ever been.

The company first released the new Aibo with a major ceremony in which it presented the dogs to owners selected by lottery. To date, it's sold 20 000 units in Japan. It expects to sell fewer than that in the US, said Mike Fasulo, Sony president and chief operating officer.

"It's not a product I want to push and drive hard for revenue. It's more [about] innovation and how the best of Sony comes together," Fasulo said. "It really is a true expression of the brand."

The hope is that Aibo can reinspire some of the affection, by using AI to become a personal companion. The robodog has over 400 parts, meaning it can move more like a real animal. Its eyes are Sony displays, so its gaze can follow you around the room. Tapping its knowledge of entertainment, Sony's also made it possible to teach the dog tricks - Aibo can imitate gestures and reproduce them on command later.

Aibo can also take pictures with a voice prompt, responding to its owner's voice.

"We're very much focused and committed to AI and robotics, and the combination of the two. We see a whole lot of applications," Fasulo said, adding that Sony sees a robotics market beyond Aibo for robots in the business world.

But Aibo is a good proof of concept for Sony, O'Donnell said, particularly as more companies expand their robotics efforts beyond utilitarian devices such as robot vacuum cleaners and into robots that can also act as companions. Again, Sony has many of the components to succeed - including advanced hardware, a deep knowledge of entertainment and a reputation for good design - if it can combine them.

"This is about making a statement," he said. "It's all the pieces coming together."

The Washington Post