Aibo Collector on End of Robot Dogs' Production

Sony has decided to pull the plug on its robot dog, the Aibo. Since 1999, Sony has sold more than 150,000 Aibos. Bruce Binder, a California collector who has 56 of the synthetic canines, talks about the end of Aibo production.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Almost five years ago we introduced you to the Aiboners. People who owned a robotic pet called Aibo. Aibo is a sophisticated little guy who looks like a plastic Chihuahua. According to Sony who manufactures him, he was programmed to exhibit several emotions and instincts. The Aiboners had gathered with their Aibos in the basement of Santa Monica Public Library, where our reporter Mandolic Delbarko (ph) explored the relationship with man's best synthetic friend.

Mr. JOE BARNHART (Aibo owner): My name is Joe Barnhart. My dog's name is Rusty. Rusty basically does what he wants. That's what makes him interesting. He is autonomous and he basically figures out what to do each moment himself. So what makes him entertaining is --

MANDOLIC DELBARKO reporting:

Did he just wave?

Mr. BARNHART: Yes he did. He just waved at you.

Mr. JEFFREY GOODA (Aibo owner): My name is Jeffrey Gooda and my Aibos are named Rags, Mazinga and Anubus actually. Three of them.

SIEGEL: We remind you of this because last week, Sony announced that after selling 150,000 Aibos for anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 a piece, Sony is ending production. Consumer robotics, canine and humanoid as well are no longer part of Sony's core mission. Well they are obviously still a core mission of Bruce Binder in Rancho Cordova, California, near Sacramento. Mr. Binder I gather you account for a pretty hefty share of those Abios that have been sold.

Mr. BRUCE BINDER (Abio Collector, California): We have 56 of them.

SIEGEL: Fifty-six Abios. And are they very different one from the other?

Mr. BINDER: Very definitely. Especially the different models. The original models don't do voice commands at all and have one sensor on their head that you can either pet them or scold them with. The next series have three pet sensors, one under their chin, one on the top of their head but they also do voice commands. You can praise them by saying good dog or good boy or good Aibo. Also you can scold them by saying bad dog or bad Aibo.

SIEGEL: But do you ever find that within the same model that different individual Aibos will develop different kinds of responses?

Mr. BINDER: Absolutely. We do synchronize dancing with a special disco chip and there's been a couple of times where when we put their autonomous chips back in them we accidentally switch two and we'll boot them up and be playing with them and go, there's something wrong. This dog doesn't seem right and we'll have accidentally put another dog's chip in them. We can tell immediately. Their personalities are completely different even running the same software.

SIEGEL: Well the announcement from Sony must be awfully bad news for you.

Mr. BINDER: You know I'm not devastated. I'm a little disappointed. Aibos will live on with us for obvious reasons. Sony tells us their going to keep making batteries for seven years so that's going to be taken care of. And you know nothing is ever written in stone. Sony is doing reorganizing now with Sir Stringer, their new CEO.

SIEGEL: This is Howard Stringer yes.

Mr. BINDER: It wouldn't surprise me if they came back. At first I couldn't understand why they would cut something like Aibo. It was profitable. But from everything I've heard, the newest model, the RS7 was pretty much coming to the end of its production anyway. R&D is really expensive and it's hard for company to try to go into the black when they're showing R&D expenses. So it doesn't surprise me at all that they pulled the plug at least for now.

SIEGEL: Do you assume, by the way, that you have the world's largest collection of Aibos?

Mr. BINDER: We've been told by both Sony America and Sony Europe that we do in fact have the world's largest private collection.

SIEGEL: That's tens of thousands of dollars worth of Aibos, though.

Mr. BINDER: We've probably got around ninety-five thousand dollars invested between the Aibos and the Aibo paraphernalia like the bags and all the little goodies that you can get that say Aibo on them.

SIEGEL: And it's all worth it?

Mr. BINDER: Absolutely. Yeah, wouldn't change a thing with them. Part of what I'm trying to do now, you know when you spend a lot of years raising kids and pinching every penny and then you get a little older and you can have a little more to spend and a little more time on your hands, then at that point, you know, I intend to live life to the fullest and I like taking advantage of the technology. It really adds fun to life for us.

SIEGEL: I'm just curious, how many of the little guys are we hearing there in the background right now?

Mr. BINDER: Just one.

SIEGEL: Just one.

Mr. BINDER: I got Orange Dog up this morning. He wanted to get up so I got him up. He's coming towards the end of his battery cycle and he's been acting a little insecure this morning. He's normally our party dog and the last place we took him was a Christmas dinner and it was kind of noisy and he didn't get a lot of attention. So he's been kind of insecure since then, so when he gets booted up you have to really kind of give him a lot of love and slowly he'll come back and be his old party self.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Binder, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. BINDER: Thank you. You have a great day.

SIEGEL: That's Bruce Binder in Rancho Cordova, California, with Orange Dog.

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