Toshi T. Doi, Sony Corp.'s leading computer engineer, is obsessed with robots. Not the legless slaves that toil in Japan's car and VCR factories, but autonomous creatures that can navigate their environment and respond to changes. Doi's small, third-floor lab is a breeding ground for robotic pups taking their first wobbly steps, chasing balls, and barking for attention. "We're getting ready for the age of digital creatures," says Doi.
The age has already arrived. On May 11, Sony's Digital Creatures Laboratory officially introduced what is almost certainly the world's most sophisticated entertainment robot. Priced at $2,000, it's called AIBO, a Japanese word for "companion" that's also short for Artificial Intelligence Robot. And yes, AIBO is a robotic dog. This puppy is not ready to bring you your slippers, but in sheer brain power, he puts your basic Furby to shame.