We have proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks - especially if he's a robot one and can learn skills quicker than Keanu Reeves in The Matrix.
For the past few days we've been taking Sony's ERS-7 AIBO for walkies to test out his new AIBO MIND 3 software. We've been pleasantly surprised by what we found, even if we did have a few technical nightmares setting him up in the first place. Sony's robo pooch certainly isn't for those who get nauseous at the mere mention of the words 'wireless network settings'.
The MIND 3 Memory Stick adds quite a lot to AIBO's repetoire. The big features are a blogging function, remote control over the net, the ability to read RSS news aloud and a memory for mapping his surroundings.
Before we describe the delights of a dog blog, however, a quick word on AIBO himself. The internal hardware hasn't changed at all, but the pup wonder is now available in a rather fetching champagne finish in addition to the white (pictured). Each individual ERS-7 also has a pair of ears and a tail with a unique mottled pattern.
The dog blog
This one's cool but it has been a tad oversold. Although AIBO can now take a random photo and audio clip of what he sees each day while you're out, he can't actually upload them direct to a blog. Instead, you need a PC nearby running nearby with Sony's Entertainment Player software. The good news is that it does work; it talked happily to our Typepad blog account.
Remote control over the web
AKA guard-dog mode. One of the neat features of the new software is that you can log in to AIBO over the internet and remotely control him wherever you are. There are, of course, two caveats, and they're fairly big ones. Firstly, you need a Virtual Private Network on your router and most home ones don't support VPN. The second is that the PC you want to use for remote control AIBO needs to be a Windows machine running Entertainment Player. We've not had a chance to test this yet but would love to hear from owners who have.
Read the news, AIBO!
Now this is smart. Feed AIBO with RSS feeds - whether it's Stuff gadget news or your favourite blogs - and he'll read them aloud. All you have to do is shout 'AIBO, read the news!' (very loudly, like you're talking to a deaf relative) and tell him which category to read. The American synthesised voice is actually not bad - it's legible - and it's a great proof of concept. For the time being, though, we'll be sticking to radio and the BBC.
He's still not as good at remembering room layouts as his robo vac nemesis, the Electrolux Trilobite, but AIBO can at least remember where you stuck his charger. Yep, he can do it all by himself using his camera - he no longer needs the charger's black and white chequered tower to remind him. In our experience, you just need to hope he doesn't wander more than two metres away from it. Due to hardware limitations, he's got a fairly Goldfish-worthy memory.
If you already have an ERS-7 pawing around your living room, you should definitely buy this upgrade - just make sure you splash out on a VPN router to make it worthwhile. The other new features are cute, but we're not 100 per cent convinced they warrant the £100 price tag on their own.
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