Looking For Love: Sony Reveals Plans To Build Relationship Robot

Is this the droid you’re looking for?

It may be best known for Walkmans, Playstations and cameras, but Japanese electronics giant Sony has its sights set on robotics.

The firm has revealed its plans to get back into robotics, a full decade since its last foray – in the form of robo-dog Aibo.

Sony’s chief executive Kazuo Hirai said the firm was on a mission to make a robot capable of ‘forming an emotional bond’.

Is this the droid you're looking for? It may be best known for Walkmans, Playstations and cameras, but Japanese electronics giant Sony has its sights set on robotics. It plans to create an emotional robot that can bond with humans (stock image used)

SONY ANOUNCES ROBOT AMBITIONS

Sony’s plans to get back into consumer robotics include efforts to produce a machine capable of ‘forming an emotional bond’ with users.

Details are still to emerge, with the firm’s last foray into the field more than a decade ago.

Sony blazed a trail with Aibo, its canine-modelled artificial intelligence robot, which was used by researchers around the world, even participating in a robotic football tournament in 2005.

The Japanese electronics giant also developed a two-foot tall humanoid robot called Qrio, aimed at entertainment.

But the robot never reached the shelves, with the project canned in 2006 along with Aibo and the firm’s other robotics projects.

The announcement came at a meeting in Tokyo this week, in which Hirai spoke on the electronics giant’s plans for its upcoming virtual reality headset, set for launch in October.

Details are thin at this stage, but The Verge reports company notes from the presentation read: ‘Sony will seek to propose new business models that integrate hardware and services to provide emotionally compelling experiences.’

It did however, say it wanted a ‘robot capable of forming an emotional bond with customers, and able to grow to inspire love and affection’.

Sony abandoned its consumer robotics aspirations in 2006 after increased competition in the Asian markets led to massive cost cutting.

Prior to this, Sony blazed a trail with Aibo, its canine-modelled artificial intelligence robot. Alongside its popularity as a consumer robot, the robots were used by researchers for a number of areas, including a robotic football tournament in 2005.

The firm also developed a follow up in the form of Qrio, a two-foot tall humanoid robot created in 2003. While the Qrio was aimed at entertainment, it never reached the shelves, with the project canned in 2006 along with Aibo and the firm’s other robotics projects.

Sony has revealed its plans to get back into robotics, a full decade since its last foray ¿ in the form of robo-dog Aibo (pictured). Chief executive Kazuo Hirai said the firm was on a mission to make a robot capable of ¿forming an emotional bond¿ with users

The Japanese electronics giant also developed a two-foot tall humanoid robot called Qrio (pictured)

Sony has revealed its plans to get back into robotics, a full decade since its last foray – in the form of robo-dog Aibo (left). The Japanese electronics giant also developed a two-foot tall humanoid robot called Qrio (right)

Sony’s recent announcement comes amid a new wave of consumer-friendly robots, as electronics firms reimagine human-robot interactions.

One of the most prominent is Pepper, an interactive robot which is being trialled in hospitals in Belgium to greet visitors at reception and direct them around the hospital.

In the US, one robotics firm is working on a small consumer robot, called Cozmo, which has facial recognition and reacts to its owner in an attempt to form a bond.

Mr Hirai confirmed that Sony’s games division was its strongest area, with growth boosted by console sales as well as interest for Sony VR – which is available for pre-order in the UK for £349.99, cheaper than Facebook’s Oculus Rift.

‘It’s an area where Sony can leverage its expertise in cameras, filming, content production as well as entertainment assets,’ said Hirai, with Reuters reporting the division’s sales target are between $17.6 billion to $18.6 billion (£13.1bn to £13.88bn).

The firm has cut its forecasts for sales of image sensors following signs that the saturated smartphone market is slowing, but aims for operating profits of $4.9bn (3.66) in the financial year ending April 2017.

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