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MECHANICAL DOOHICKEYS.

The next time you sit on the recliner and give your favorite pooch a loving call, hoping he'll run over with your most comfortable pair of slippers and a good helping of unconditional affection, you may be in for a surprise.

What you may get, rounding the living room couch and heading your way, is not your favorite cocker spaniel Ginger, but AIBO, its equally loyal and obedient mechanical sibling. AIBO will do most anything Ginger can do--and do some things even better. Equipped with a variety of sensors, a color camera and stereo microphone, controlled by a 64-bit microprocessor and 8 megabytes of memory, AIBO will do tricks or even play soccer with you. And, unlike Ginger, AIBO will never bite, or soil the rug.

AIBO, which is derived from "artificial intelligence" and "robot," is Sony's newest version of its robotic canine line. And while it may not quite measure up to your favorite pup in personality, the 3 1/2-pound pseudo-mutt won't get cranky on you--unless, of course, his lithium-ion battery loses its charge. But he will get angry. Especially if you whack him on his sensor-laden head with a news-paper. When angry, AIBO's red eye lamps will blink disapprovingly. On the other hand, if you don't mind petting his metallic head and rubbing his ears, he'll tilt his head back and wag his tail merrily as his eyes turn a serene shade of green.

Sony is selling AIBO in limited quantities for $2,500. For an extra $450, you can buy a performer kit that contains motion-editing software for more stunts and an additional memory stick.

Whether you prefer your canines the old-fashioned way-alive--or robotic, there's no denying that AIBO is a mechanical marvel. Its introduction in the latter part of 1999 provides a fitting end to a century's worth of mechanical and electrical contraptions and other household thingamajigs.

In this magazine, we focus mostly on engineering achievements of significant proportions (I invite you to read next month's issue, as we unveil the list of top 10 mechanical engineering achievements of the 20th century as selected by you, our readers). But the past 100 years have seen innumerable small-scale mechanical developments that have not received much publicity in any engineering publication, but which, nonetheless, have made our lives a little more convenient. Household gadgets fit into this category.

A recent article in The New York Times on Samuel J. Popeil, perhaps the king of unusual kitchen devices, rekindled a bit of nostalgia. I remember testing a few of these items myself in my mother's kitchen. Others I only remember hearing about or seeing on late-night television commercials.

Who hasn't heard the catch phrase: "It slices, it dices, and it juliennes"?

The long list of products that are part of the O-Matic revolution (the Mince-O-Matic, the Veg-O-Matic and other such items (the Egg Scrambler, the Miracle Broom--I think I still have one of these tucked away somewhere in the garage collecting mold) have become more than simply a part of the American folklore landscape. They represent U.S. ingenuity.

And while few mechanical engineers take pride in the early Chop-O-Matic as a great engineering achievement, tomorrow's version of the electronic pooch may play a weighty role in the lives of a generation that will look back at the Internet the same way we remember the Dial-O-Matic slicer. Happy 21st century!

John Falcioni can be reached by e-mail at falcionij@asme.org.
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Title Annotation:AIBO, Sonys robotic "dog"
Author:FALCIONI, JOHN G.
Publication:Mechanical Engineering-CIME
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 1999
Words:573
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