National

Aibo owners urge Sony to restore repair services for beloved, early-model robot dogs

Kyodo

Owners of Sony Corp.’s Aibo robot dogs are asking the electronics maker to review its policy of discontinuing repairs seven years after a product is terminated, contending it will result in the toys’ “deaths.”

Sony released a revamped Aibo model in January, marking its return to robotics after discontinuing the original Aibo in 2006 amid restructuring efforts prompted by losses in its mainstay TV business, among other problems.

The latest batch of Aibo owners wants the same thing that thousands of other owners who bought its predecessor when it was on the market between 1999 and 2006 wanted: long companionship. The termination of repair services left owners of the original models grieving. Some even held funerals for their robotic canines when they could no longer walk or bark.

Sony is asking consumers to understand its position on Aibo repairs by highlighting the features of the upgraded model, which is equipped with artificial intelligence.

According to the company, the new Aibo can remember the person who spends the most time with it, and its memory can be stored on the internet. If an Aibo is broken, its memory can be planted into a new one.

A Sony official described the situation by saying: “The soul of an Aibo can be passed on to its next generation.”

But fans remain unconvinced. They say a company selling robotic pets should provide longer after-sales service than for general home electronics.

A man from Yokohama who owned an old Aibo and recently attended an event for the new one, is one such customer. His old Aibo can only move for about five minutes because of a battery problem.

“If it’s a real dog, it will never come back to life once it dies,” he said. “But an Aibo can. It can be resuscitated even after it’s broken. I think that’s the raison d’etre of the Aibo.”

Nobuyuki Norimatsu, a former Sony engineer who runs A-Fun Co., an electronics repair service in Narashino, Chiba Prefecture, echoes that view.

The robot dog “is a precious partner for its purchaser, who has deep feelings for it. Sony should fulfill its responsibility till the end as the company that introduced the product to the world,” he said.

A-Fun has repaired nearly 2,000 Aibos so far and the orders continue to come in, he said.