In January, Sony held a special event at its headquarters in Tokyo. It was a "birthday ceremony" for the new edition of the company's robot dog, Aibo. Amid a storm of camera flashes, Izumi Kawanishi, head of the company's artificial intelligence and robot group, gingerly lifted the droid out of its cocoonlike packaging. Its eyes winked on. It shook its body, stretched, raised its paw in greeting and emitted a few synthetic barks. A robot star was reborn.
"It's our silver wedding anniversary, so this is our memento," a Japanese couple, who received their new Aibo, said to applause from attendees.
Sony canceled the original Aibo series in 2006 as it struggled with legacy mainline businesses such as televisions. After strong sales of image sensors and other electronics components, along with years of restructuring under outgoing CEO Kazuo Hirai, the company is flourishing again, with a record-high profit forecast of about $5.97 billion (630 billion yen) for the year ending March 31.
The return of Aibo, announced last November, has been greeted with fanfare in Japan, where devotees of the original series have been known to dress up their robot pooches for parties and even hold elaborate Buddhist funeral services for them. The new Aibo quickly sold out through preorders, and Sony has held four other sales since then, with another scheduled for early April.