Since 2018, Nobuhiro Futaba, owner of Penguin Café in Tokyo has been holding a rather unique event. Every Sunday, he opens his café an hour early so the public and their pets can squeeze in a play date. But their companions are a tad more K-9 than canine – they are Aibo robot dogs.
According to Rosalind Adams at BuzzFeed News, who witnessed one of the futuristic coffee mornings, the “Aibo World” weekly event involves the robots learning together, sharing tricks with each other, and even hosting birthday parties.
Aibo is the name Sony gave to its fleet of robot dogs, with the latest price tag sitting at around $2,000, plus a monthly fee to keep their data in the cloud. Futaba explained to Adams that his wife didn’t think they could afford the costs of caring for a furry companion, but they couldn’t resist the simplicity of Simon, their robotic dog.
Long working hours, lack of space, and not being able to accept the death of a real pet are some of the reasons cafe-goers say they prefer a techno pet to a real-life furry pal. And it seems the Aibo makes a good companion, coming with all the personality but none of the challenges of taking care of a living pet.
The robot pet uses artificial intelligence to understand and bond with its owner. The Aibo website explains, “As Aibo learns its environment and develops relationships with people, its identity takes on more and more layers. With everything you do, Aibo becomes your Aibo.”
Aibo is designed to live forever – an appealing feature, particularly for pet owners who cannot face the sorrow of losing a living creature. As a matter of fact, the Aibo’s data, which includes the “personality” it has acquired, is stored in the cloud. As such, if the robot dog’s body is lost or damaged, all its information can be transferred into a new robot.
The idea of Aibo might seem weird, but it offers many advantages, especially to busy city residents who find it difficult to properly care for a real dog. With Aibo, they can have their very own pet without having to make time for walkies or worry about allergies.
As for Futaba and his robo-pup coffee mornings, the idea is proving so popular it might lead to a new Aibo café sensation, providing a cruelty-free version of animal cafés. Though these are popular in Japan, more and more people are deciding that they don’t want to encourage the imprisonment of wildlife. A café, after all, is not a natural habitat for animals.