AIBO as a Research Tool
(from DISCOVER March 2003)

Stefan Ziegler, English Z3M3



Description of AIBO

This robot, named AIBO, looks like a dog: with a head, four legs and a tail. AIBO is the abbreviation of "Artificial Intelligence roBOt". It was developped by Sony. It has a 64-bit MIPS RISC processor with 384 MHz and 32 MB RAM in the actual version. The best model has 20 degrees of freedom (movement in one axis), so it can show about 1000 doggy moves.

To interact with the environment, the robot has a digital camera, a microphone, speakers, pressure sensors, an acceleration sensor, an infrared distance sensor and a thermometric sensor.

Reduced Instruction Set Computer
a special RISC architecture

Experiments with real dogs

In some experiments at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory Paris, Frédéric Kaplan and Adam Miklósi would find out the reaction of dogs, if they met AIBO. The main motivation was to explore dogs' species recognition. After 14000 years of relationship between humans and dogs, we can also learn much about ourselves.

In the first test AIBO was programmed to follow moving red objects and to walk towards static red objects. So it went to a red food plate and was attacked by a Belgian sheperd, which was crouching there. He thought AIBO would take his food. Before the robot was badly damaged, the researchers took him away. The dog got the meat.

The scientists also tested the reaction of dogs to AIBO in comparison to a real puppy and a toy car. They had 24 adult dogs and 16 juveniles. AIBO (with fur) attracted the dogs much more than the toy car, but not as much as the real puppy. The older dogs were faster in investigating the bot and the puppy. The team also tested the interest of dogs in an AIBO without fur. But such a strong reaction was not observed. The dogs thought for a short time, AIBO was a real dog. But, a short time later, they found out it was not because it did not move fast enough.

So the dogs recognition is also based on seeing and hearing, not only smelling. Their sense of smell is still as good as that of wolves. But dogs developed their visual sense and their hearing to detect the signals of their owners. The scientists also think that AIBO can only be seen as a real dog if it interacts with dogs.

Other animal robots

A ratbot was build at the Waseda University in Japan. It is covered in fur and has an FM receiver to control it by a host computer. A rat has a good sense of smell and excellent ears. It is also cheap and easy to accommodate. The robot is nearly the same size as a rat. It has a 14-bit microchip as motor controller. It has two wheels, which makes it easy to maneuvre and two arms to raise the body for "standing" and "mounting". A real rat will chase the robot if it goes to a food source.

A beebot, designed at the Odense University in Denmark, can do a "honey dance". This dance shows other bees, where they had to fly to find honey. The dance pattern looks like two ellipses, connected by a line. The upward angle of the line indicates the direction and the duration shows the distance. To draw the path, the robot is connected to a plotter by a stick. The interesting thing of the dance is: in the darkness of the hive, the bees can't see anything. And they can't hear it. The experiment suggests that the bees can detect the oscillations of air created by the movements. The real bees found the place, represented by the waggle.

To explain the male mating behaviour of a bowerbird in the Australian rain forest, a birdbot was constructed at the University of Maryland (USA). It constists of servomotors, a computer chip, a metal frame and many feathers. A skin is attached to the metal body by craft wire. This robot can fluff its feathers, move its head and crouch, which signals the female is ready to mate. A male real bird reacted to this moves, and changed the intensity of the mating behaviour in relation to the movements of the robot. Up until now, it is not known whether the male birds controls the female behaviour or the femal birds controls the male behaviour. Maybe these experiments can solve this question. A male bowerbird robot can not be build of today technology, it is too complex.

There were also many other animal robot experiments in Europe, America and Asia. But scientists got the most sophisticated results with the newest robots. So the scientists found out new things about real nature.


In comparison to the past, where we only had videos or dummies, these robots are a real step forward to understand the natural world and the thoughts of animals. But the author also asks: "do we see what we think we see because it is really there or because we can only understand the motivations of other animals through the muddy filters that make us human?"


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Stefan Ziegler Last change: 12.06.2003