Since November 2018, Penguin Café in Tokyo has been holding a rather unusual event. Every Sunday, café owner Nobuhiro Futaba opens his doors an hour early so the city’s residents and their canine companions can enjoy a catch-up and a play date. But the animals are a little less canine and little more K-9 than you might expect; they are all Aibo robot dogs.
Described by Rosalind Adams at BuzzFeed News, who managed to infiltrate one of the futuristic coffee mornings, the weekly “Aibo World” event involves the robots learning tricks from one another and even being thrown birthday parties.
Aibo – which means companion in Japanese – refers to Sony’s line of robot dogs, the latest costing $2,000 plus extra each month to store data in the cloud. Futaba told Adams that his wife objected to the cost of getting a techno pet, but he couldn’t resist and is thrilled to have Simon as his four-legged companion.
So why might people prefer a robotic dog to a real-life furry friend? The café-goers gave Adams a variety of reasons, from lack of space and long working hours to not being able to face the death of a real pet. It seems the Aibo can provide companionship and joy to its owner without the complexities that come with having a live doggo in the house.
The robot uses artificial intelligence to tailor itself to its owner. “As aibo learns its environment and develops relationships with people, its identity takes on more and more layers,” reads the Aibo website. “With everything you do, your aibo becomes your aibo.”
One feature of the latest Aibo that makes it so appealing to those who cannot face the grief of losing their beloved pet is that all its data, including the “personality” it has developed, are stored in the cloud. So, if Aibo damaged a leg or lost an ear, all its information could be uploaded onto a new robot. Basically, your pet Aibo will live forever.
While the notion of Aibo might seem totally bizarre, it kind of makes sense. Busy city-dwellers who would struggle to properly care for a real dog can now have their very own pet pooch without having to worry about allergies, having a garden, or making time for walkies.
Perhaps Futaba’s idea might lead to a new Aibo café craze, providing a cruelty-free alternative to the real animal cafés that have become so popular in recent years. Constantly being petted or made to play with humans can be stressful for animals, and now animal cafés appear to have moved away from domesticated pets like cats and dogs to wild animals like owls, snakes, and meerkats.
It’s best not to give your money to cafés that exploit wildlife in this way, a café is not a natural habitat for a wild animal. There’s a bunch of robo-pups in Tokyo that will be way more pleased to see you.
[H/T: BuzzFeed News]