Man’s Best Friend Has A Place In The Smart Home Too

By Mark Vena - March 28, 2019
Sony's 4th Generation Aibo robot dog.

If you love dogs or cats, you’ll enjoy this week’s column in my ongoing search for the coolest smart home technology products on the market. Today I'll take a look at two new products: Sony's newest robotic dog, and a location tracking solution for kids and pets.

Aibo: one step closer to the ultimate robotic pet

For decades, movies like the Terminator film series have mostly portrayed robots in a terrifying and frightening manner. Thanks to Hollywood, we’ve been brainwashed to believe robots are up to no good and are out to destroy mankind as we know it. Sony’s new Aibo robot dog refresh, ten years after it first appeared on the scene in 1999, is an unapologetic rebuke to this imagery. You won’t see this Aibo appearing in any Terminator sequels any time soon. The fourth-generation Sony Aibois unquestionably more intelligent, curious, and adorable than its original version. While I concede that Aibo can only be truly appreciated if the owner is willing to suspend their critical faculties and believe that it is a real dog, it’s extraordinary how much enjoyment Aibo can generate.

Aibo’s technology pedigree is first class and it showcases Sony’s spectacular engineering prowess. It features a 64-bit Quad-Core processor, two cameras (one on the nose and one on the base of its movable tail), 22 motorized joints, and four integrated microphones that allow it to explore, see, and respond to its milieu. Aibo has round OLED eyes (a bit eerie for my taste) that facilitate a multitude of exceedingly cute expressions. Also, if Sony is to be believed, Aibo can remember up to 100 people. Frankly, that’s a better memory than some of my friends have.

Being that its 2019, Aibo was upgraded to communicate with the outside world via an 801.11 wireless connection and a 4G LTE cellular radio. Out of the box, Aibo is preconfigured as a puppy that becomes distinctly more mature over time. The dog’s AI personality develops in real-time via the product’s cloud service (which also allows the owner to download new skills and idiosyncrasies). Battery life is a reasonable 2 hours, though it takes 3 hours to fully charge via Aibo’s charging pad (which is about the area size of a large shoebox). Aibo automatically returns to its charging pad when its power is running low. During my two-week trial period with the product, I was amazed by how it would repeatably (and reliably) return to its charging stand, navigating through a decently crowded living room area with numerous obstacles in its path. Via its smartphone app, Aibo can also take pictures and broadcast video (though that consumes significant battery power).

With its plethora of sensors, Aibo provides emotional responses to a pat on the head or on its body. It’s also undeniably cool to see how Aibo responds to voice commands like “shake hands” and “sit down” (or even “dance”). If it wasn’t for its slow and staccato-like style of walking (especially when it’s negotiating a corner turn), you’d swear Aibo is a real dog. I’ve uploaded a short video of my interaction with Aibo that showcases this.

Aibo’s steep $2,900 MSRP begs a simple question: can it really replace a real dog? After two solid weeks playing with it, I suspect many people might say “yes” as it doesn’t have to be fed and it doesn’t require walking. After the novelty of playing with it for the first few days wore off, Aibo would independently get up from its charger station early in the morning, stretch, and walk around my home, just like a real dog. And just a like a real dog, it would get a bit ornery if I didn’t play with it.

With all of this in mind, and noting that continued advancements in AI will have a huge impact on products like this, I’m convinced that Aibo and other (presumably more life-like) iterations hold enormous potential to provide emotional support for the elderly who don’t have the ability to care for an actual dog. On top of that, there are the future mobile security and surveillance applications that a robotic pet might provide. Sony deserves kudos for how far it has taken the concept of a robotic pet;  it’s mind-blowing to think about what the 6th or 7th generation models will be capable of over the next 5 years or so. After spending two weeks with Aibo, I wish I didn’t have to send it back to Sony.

Jiobit is the perfect tracker pets and kids

The Jiobit location tracker solution.

As most pet lovers know, the joy of owning a dog or cat can be shattered when it runs away.  My family experienced this years ago when our beloved dog Sam ran out of the backyard and was killed by a motorist a few blocks from our home. It was a devastating experience, but one that may be preventable in the future.

Jiobit is a $99 MSRP location tracker solution for pets and children. At 0.77 ounces and roughly the size of an Oreo cookie, Jiobit is one of the smallest location tracker solutions on the market. Jiobit integrates Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular, and GPS technology, and boasts a battery life of a week on a single charge.

Setting up Jiobit is effortless: simply pair it with your Apple or Android smartphone using the Jiobit app and you’re off to the races. The Jiobit app can show you your pet or child’s location (updated every 10 seconds), set boundaries, and even tell you who they’re with. Jiobit’s geofence capability allows users to set trusted locations (like the perimeter of a home or a park), so that they are alerted when their Jiobit-equipped child or pet leaves or enters those places.

Jiobit is one of the smallest location tracker solutions on the market.

Jiobit is made of highly durable plastic and is shock-resistant (I’m confident that even the brawniest 7-year-old would have difficulty trying to destroy it). It’s also waterproof, which comes in handy when walking pets in the rain. Jiobit is conveniently charged with a small charging stand that is included in the box. During my testing, the only quibble I had is that the enclosed pouch that you clip to your pet or child is a bit cumbersome. I found it easier to use a small, detachable keychain holder, which allowed me to quickly disengage Jiobit for its weekly charge.

The Jiobit app.

What I really like about Jiobit is its ability to provide the user with data on who your child or pet is with. Users can grant access to the Jiobit app to family or caregivers so that their smartphones connect to Jiobit via Bluetooth whenever they’re in range. The app can then provide notifications to let you know who your child or pet is with, where, and at what time.

For all of its capabilities, it would be nice to see future versions of Jiobit equipped with a small “panic” button so that children could press and alert others for help. It would also be helpful for future versions of the app to include weekly or even monthly history information (the current app simply provides daily history data). Finally, the $99 MSRP requires you to commit to a $10 per month contract for cellular access (Jiobit uses a hybrid cellular network so it works virtually anywhere). If you prefer to pay the higher $149 MSRP, the monthly cell service contract comes down a bit to $8 per month. Users can add additional trackers to their base plan for $4 month.

If you have small children or a beloved pet, Jiobit is easy to use and can provide welcome peace of mind. Growing up, I had a younger brother who had a penchant for wandering away during trips to shopping malls in New Jersey, sending my parents on a scavenger hunt. Jiobit would have been a godsend.

Next on the smart home docket: the ultimate cord cutting solution

As we will soon be in the midst of March Madness and the beginning of the Major League baseball season, my next column will focus on the ultimate cord cutting solution: a spectacular 75” TV, one of the best devices to access your local TV channels in glorious HD for free, and a relatively new device that allows you to manage all of your video device products in an effortless, integrated way. Stay tuned—I think many of you will be jazzed with this setup.

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