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Sony’s new Aibo robot dog is absolutely adorable — and crazy expensive

Love pets but hate pet hair and poop? Meet Sony’s sixth-generation Aibo robot dog, an adorable, A.I.-powered robo-beast that will learn who you and your friends are and come to love you – just like a real dog.

Sony on Thursday unveiled the limited First Litter Edition Aibo, which goes on sale in a few weeks (just in time for the holidays) for a mere $2,900 – a price certain to have some shoppers barking. The puppy is a technology tour de force, which partly explains the price. It has 22 axes of movement, thanks to new ultra-compact actuators. Its eyes are OLED screens, which are bright and expressive. It’s got a camera in its nose – to recognize who you are — and one just before its tail, which allows it to act as a sort of security device as it roams your house at night. And it comes for the first time with a cloud-connected A.I. system to help the companion robot learn who you are and grow and adapt.

A.I. is on the tip of every tech company’s tongue lately. LG told us earlier this month about its massive investment in A.I., which solves the conundrum that lies at the heart of modern technology, threading its way from your phone to your dishwasher to your air conditioner: “Currently, you need to be smart to use a smartphone,” I.P. Park, president and chief technical officer of LG Electronics, told Digital Trends.

To solve that problem, LG is going all-in on A.I., announcing a major investment in research and development: The company just cut the ribbon on the new LG Electronics A.I. Research Lab in Canada, a five-year research partnership with the University of Toronto and an extension of the newly expanded LG Silicon Valley A.I. Lab in Santa Clara, California, which opened in 2013. LG also has research labs working on A.I. around the globe, including in Russia, Japan, China, Korea, Finland, and India, in addition to the North American spaces.

Samsung announced a similar A.I. push during its recent Unpacked event, where the company announced it was packing A.I. and the Bixby voice assistant not just into smartphones but smartwatches, and ultimately everything the company sells.

For Sony, A.I. is not just a way to smarten gadgets but a way to build companions, products that can connect with owners. Aibo will recognize up to 100 different people, and can recall the various interaction it has had with each one of them.

“This is truly a one-of-a-kind product designed to connect with its owners on an emotional level,” said Mike Fasulo, president and chief operating officer of Sony’s North American arm. “Aibo’s charming personality, dog-like behaviors, and ability to intelligently interact with family members help to create a personal bond. Bringing Aibo back to the U.S. reflects Sony’s broader commitment to provide consumers with products that not only entertain them but also enrich their lives.”

The robo-pups are on display in Sony’s headquarters in New York City, and I spent an hour or so playing with the little guys. Forget the price tag for the time being – Aibo is unquestionably adorable. It learns tricks, and seeing Aibo roll over, wag its tail, or raise a paw to shake with you had me and an entire audience of journalists gushing. Because Aibo grows as it goes, the puppies we looked at were just that: babies, and they have personalities to match. That means they don’t always respond to your commands, just like real puppies. They also expressed very real curiosity: They wanted to play with me as much as I wanted to play with them.

Still, sticker shock may be a factor as Sony aims for the U.S. market. The company has sold 20,000 Aibos in Japan since bringing the beast back in January, Sony announced today, but consider the cost: The Japanese units sold for around $1,800. This model is over $1,000 more expensive.

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