It all began with a robotic dog. Nobuhiko Oguchi was mechanical engineer for the Sony Aibo for six years before beginning work on Rolly in 2006. He told me "The Aibo engineer team discussed how to extend Aibo engineering knowhow to other products," - and insisted that they came up with the plans for Rolly before cost-cutting meant that Aibo was put to sleep for good.
Unsurprisingly, Rolly features a lot of the Aibo-inspired engineering, from the six motors that help him dance to the way his little flapping hands to snap safely off (and back on again) just like Aibo's tail and ears.
But the despite his heritage - and his endearingly spasmodic dance routines - Sony isn't pitching Rolly as a robot. He is an MP3 player, a Bluetooth speaker and, rather more grandly, 'a new method of enjoying music'. And his £250/40,000 Yen pricetag hasn't put people off buying him. In Japan, where Rolly has been on sale for a year, Sony has smashed its targets. Although coy about revealing exact sales figures, Oguchi put admitted Rolly had sold 'more than thousands'.
Sony is keen to build on the Rolly's success. New software allows Rolly users to manually choreograph their own dances and share them with others. More bizarrely, a new Bluetooth remote control software allows you to synchronise the movements of up to seven Rollys. While their combined 1.5W speakers are hardly going to rock a party, it's certainly an arresting sight - not unlike the yellow robot we came across while wondering Tokyo's streets.
It's the essential pointlessness of Rolly that makes him so endearing. It makes him almost human. The skeptics may ask whether, with the global economy collapsing, we really need a dancing MP3 player. But they're missing the point - Rolly is gadgetry at its most escapist. And he's my friend.