Why robot dogs will replace phones, not real dogs

For over twenty years, parents have been prolonging their kids’ requests for a pet by buying them virtual pets.

Released in 1997, Tamagotchi was the first virtual pet to hit store shelves. Trapped in a small egg-shaped toy, Tamagotchis were simple pets you fed snacks, played with, and mostly let sleep. From then on a slew of companies (a large portion Japanese) tinkered and innovated to make the virtual pet experience parallel the experience of a living pet. Yet, no company has got it right.

This begs me to question whether virtual pets are even supposed to be like owning a living pet. The answer to this I believe is no. They exist for a slightly different purpose.

When applied to a child’s life, virtual pets are great for teaching a kid how to care for something else – something else that needs to be fed, walked, and loved. Nintendogs really nailed this one. When applied to an adult’s life, virtual pets provide a bit of companionship without the burden of leaving work to walk and feed their dog.

It is for this reason that virtual pets have more to do with inspiring the imagination. Look at the widely popular Pet Rock of the 70s. Or how about Furby from just over a decade ago.

Now, here we are in 2018 and Sony is releasing pre-orders for their robot dog: Aibo. Aibo is a mechanical canine that acts and behaves like a real pup (and can be quite cute at times). Aibo’s eyes are screens, its nose is a camera, it knows when its batteries are low and will go charge itself. Additionally, Aibo connects to the cloud to help it learn more commands over time and will fetch its Aibone if you toss it. Everything packed into Aibo is designed to make Aibo feel lifelike and make a great companion. However, Aibo-as-a-companion is just the starting point.

When we look at the trajectory of a luxury product like Aibo and cross-reference it with the rise of voice-enabled tech and wearables, Aibo shows us what the future holds.

Think of Aibo like R2D2 from Star Wars. You’ve got this robot that follows you wherever you go. It’s a large piece of hardware that’s jam-packed with screens, sensors, accelerometers, speakers, etc… And on top of that, it shows compassion and comfort.

By 2028, Aibo will likely integrate with a voice assistant like Amazon Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant – while also containing all the functionalities necessary to replace our contemporary smartphone. Who knows, maybe Aibo will even feature a holographic projector.

I’ve said it many times before that the smartphone is dead. The world is ready to move on. Aibo and other Robot-as-a-companion services will make a great run at being their replacement.

Would you adopt a robot dog?