From AIBO to VISION-S: Sony's AI Robotics Evolution

Sense. Think. Move. This is the fundamental process that defines “AI robotics” technology, in which various sensing devices including image sensors collect data from the surroundings, advanced AI analyzes that data and decides on an action, and robotics technology enables the device to take that action in the physical space. AI technology is also defined by the aspect of “machine learning,” in which the AI is able to pick up on patterns, routines and experience to continually adjust its behavior and take on information in new ways.

Sony, as part of its longstanding efforts in discovering and expanding the potential of AI, has been working in the field of AI robotics for over twenty years, since the launch of the first AIBO entertainment robot in 1999, and now a wide variety of businesses and organizations within the Sony Group are involved in the development and application of AI, including the R&D section and Sony Computer Science Laboratory (Sony CSL), which are responsible for wide-reaching research across the Group; Sony AI, which conducts AI research for application in new fields; Sony Semiconductor Solutions (SSS) and Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE), which promotes AI as a differentiating technology in existing business areas; and the AI Robotics Business Group (AIRBG), which is working to link AI to business in ways never seen before. This edition of the Corporate Blog will trace the history of Sony's progress in the field of AI robotics, from the early days of AIBO until the present, in which certain designers who worked on AIBO/aibo and other AI robots are now working on one of Sony's most exciting new projects, VISION-S.

The first AIBO, released in Japan in 1999, was an autonomous entertainment that could act and make its own decision based on external stimuli, and was capable of commutating with people through a variety of facial expressions and capacity for learning and growth. Various models with updated technology, software and visual design continued to be released over the next several years, such as a model that could connect to an external device via Bluetooth that would share the AIBO's thoughts with the owner through text.

In 2006, a review of Sony's robotics business led to the decision to discontinue production of AIBO, and while the first era of AIBO would come to an end in 2014 with the closing all post-sale services, AIBO would be remembered as an innovative and unique product that was loved by its many users around the world.

(Left) ERS-110, the first model of AIBO, which began shipping in July 1999.
(Center) ERS-219, the second generation of AIBO, which launched in December 2000 with voice recognition and improved communication capabilities.
(Right) ERS-7, which was released in September 2003, offered advanced imagine recognition and a variety of expressions.

AIBO was relaunched as "aibo" in 2018, over ten years after being initially discontinued, with a new design and enhanced AI capabilities. Modern day aibo have more expressive facial expressions and movements compared to the early generations of AIBO and require an always-on Internet connection in order to make the most of their advanced AI as well as receive regular software updates. Like a real puppy, aibo can learn and grow through interacting with their owners and will each develop their own personality. Owners can also teach their aibo various tricks, dances and other actions. Over time aibo can be trained to “eat” and “go to the bathroom” at the proper times and places, and the robots will eventually develop a sense of their own territory within the owner's living space. Aibo owners around the world often bring their aibo to offline meetings to show off their progress and discoveries in raising aibo, and AIRBG also hosts regular fan meetings to gain direct feedback from owners.

ERS-1000, the first generation of the reborn “aibo” launched on November 1, 2018. Aibo is now available in a number of color variations.

In addition to aibo, the engineers at AIRBG are hard at work applying AI robotics technologies to new products including poiq, a small robot that aims to achieve advanced speech, which was test-launched in the Japan market this year; Airpeak, a professional-use drone that uses AI to provide creators with the utmost in creative expression; and VISION-S Prototype, an electronic vehicle with a host of AI and cloud-based features defined by the three concepts of Safety, Adaptability and Entertainment. In particular, VISION-S Prototype has been positioned by Sony as an epochal initiative that will transform the automobile from a space for mobility into a space for entertainment.

(Left) Airpeak S1, which was released to the market last year; (center) poiq; (right) VISION-S Prototype ©Sony Group Corporation

VISION-S Prototype is equipped with state-of-the-art sensors and AI-based technology to create an optimal automobile experience and test the feasibility of an automobile experience that transcends mobility. VISION-S uses cameras to identify and monitor each occupant of the vehicle and will notice, for example, if a passenger other than the driver is about to fall sleep and will adjust the direction and position of the seat to create a more comfortable sleeping position. Additionally, just as aibo learns how to go to bed at the right time or how to respond to various commands, VISION-S Prototype continually learns the personal preferences of its owner, such as music, cabin temperature, driving settings and routes, on a daily basis, and will continue to adjust its functions and settings accordingly. The vehicle will also be able to connect to the cloud, and a system that will allow it to evolve its software and gain new functions on a continual basis is being tested.

VISION-S Prototype was initially developed and then shown off to the public at CES 2020 as a concept to show off the technologies that Sony is currently working on and elucidate its vision for the future. After continuing to develop the VISION-S concept and completing real-world driving tests, in 2022 Sony announced a partnership with Honda Motor Company in creating the new company Sony Honda Mobility Inc., with aims to develop new EV and release it onto the market by 2025. Recently, on October 13, Sony and Honda announced the company's purpose, “to move people, through the pursuit of innovation with diverse aspirations,” and stated that this new EV would be defined by the 3A's of Autonomy, Augmentation and Affinity.

Through its mobility related initiative VSION-S, as well as aibo, poiq, Airpeak and other innovative technologies, Sony aims to continue making advancements in AI robotics technology to realize a sustainable world where anyone can live in harmony with robots in their daily lives.