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Aibo 'alive'- anthropomorphic attributes

We often ascribe human attributes to animals or human form or attributes to objects that are not human. This is called anthropomorphism. We interact with objects, tools, machines and pets and may form 'attachments' to them, give them names, or direct emotions towards them.

One of the most obvious demonstrations of this is Gary Larson's animal comics. You know the ones where the animals behave with human characteristics. Although there is no images on the web of his comics we found a thesis dealing with his strategy. Visit this site for an insight into Gary Larson's anthropomophisation of animals. Or visit android world to see anthropomorphic design in robots.

A robotic companion
The Aibo was designed as a product that could be a robotic pet. In order to achieve this, Sony needed a product that could simulate the behaviour of a pet. The Aibo product has been deliberately modelled upon a dog because this is an animal that humans already anthropomorphise. The dog was the first animal to be domesticated; 20,000-year-old graves have revealed the remains of humans buried with their faithful companion, the dog.

In Tear down the techniques used to create anthropomorphic qualities, such as response to touch or following a ball, are explained. Apart from these design decisions there is the aesthetic appeal of the Aibo's exterior shell. Hajime Sorayama designed the Aibo's physical appearance. Visit a site that explores other designs by this artist.

A special case: Pixel
The Aibo handlers at the Powerhouse Museum decided to name and gender their Aibo. They decided that Pixel was a good name for a female Aibo — a pixel is diminutive (small) and digital, as is an Aibo.

Unlike real domestic pets, where their gender is apparent, an Aibo's owners determine its gender. Pixel is female and her handlers think of her as being female.

Photo: Penelope Clay

Unlike a manual for a VCR or a fax machine the Aibo manual anthropomorphises the Aibo's functionality and use. Aibos have been designed to display feedback to their users to let them know what 'state' they are in. The hardware used to display these states include:

  • red and green lights
  • sound files
  • robotic movement.

This movement is interpreted as the 'attitude' of the Aibo, for example, the tail section wagging, making sounds, cocking its head section, moving robotic limbs playfully or interactively. All these features help create a sense of the Aibo being 'alive' and not just a computerised robotic product.

Emotional feedback

Through the use of hardware and software Aibos exhibit a range of 'states' including:

Joy: When an Aibo is immersed in a favourite activity, receives approval, finds a favourite colour or plays with a ball.
Sadness: When an Aibo cannot find anyone to play with, or when it is low on batteries and there is no one to help.
Anger: When an Aibo is ignored or neglected, left on the station when ready to resume activity, or when it is scolded.
Surprise: When someone suddenly grabs its attention, or when an Aibo hears loud sounds.
Fear: When an Aibo finds a large gap in the floor, or when it is unable to get up from a fall.
Discontent: When someone shows a colour to an Aibo that it dislikes, or when its anger towards someone escalates. (Sony, 1999: 54)

Compare and contrast the behaviour of an Aibo and that of a real pet.


a) the behaviours an Aibo is not capable of
b) the feelings you may not experience with an Aibo that you would with a pet.

Think about:

a) why was it necessary to reduce the range of abilities of the Aibo compared to a real dog?
b) why was it impossible, or at the very least very difficult, to manufacture a machine that could do more things?
c) why these limitations present a 'space' between the real and the virtual. Which other animal or human qualities or functions do you think could not be replicated by 'intelligent' machines? Why?

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