So I finally broke down and ordered an iDog. It should be here in a week; I'll update with reactions. The original iDog was produced in white--closely mimicking ipod styling. Ever since Mac produced their new line of computers in hazy candy colors, so many techie gadgets have followed suit. iDog will soon also be available in pink or blue. Accessories are sure to follow. Ultimately, they're music playing gadgets, able to plug in to most music players.
There are two distinctive 'versions' available. The original "iDog" (3 AAA batteries) is produced by Sega Toys out of Japan. A more recent release in the US, the "i-Dog" (2 AA batteries), is being sold via Hasbro.
The iDog (no hyphen) is the more interactive of the two. The US version only has a light sensor, a button on the nose and tail. It 'responds' in three different emotional ways to music being played. The Japanese version has a few more sensors & responds more accurately (emotionally) to various music styles. It has a few interactive musical games, voice recognition and 70 different sounds. The voice recognition seems to indicate iDog can echo back what you've said, but perhaps in its own doggie language. Hard to know until I get it. I also don't know if the 70 sounds contain Japanese words or not. Time will tell. I was reading on another site that the little dog likes being interacted with, that it can be needy: talking to it or petting it can alter its mood. Obviously ignoring it would too. I used to have an old computer pet that would randomly walk across the bottom of my computer, play with string, meow, etc. It was pretty needy too. The iDogs (with or without hyphen) are probably about at this level--restrictively interactive, certainly no Aibo. They're stationary critters with limited capabilities. But it seems like a curious and fun idea.
Though iDog will simply be a cute conversation piece for many people, I am fascinated by the ability to attach personality to inanimate objects: animism. Japan must have the corner on the ability or desire to design specifically for this...need?
Whether it's a digipet for children or a doll for the elderly to help them be less lonely, it's an interesting phenomenon.
I remember reading an article several years ago, when Aibo was first hitting, about dolls or pets being created for a senior market: a thing that required attention and care, could mimic limited sentience or life, but wouldn't die & weren't progressively expensive, i.e., no cost for food, medicine, training, etc. It was found that when caring for these creations, the elderly became less depressed & had a better outlook on life: still isolated, but less lonely. It was bittersweet. There is something terribly poignant about that kind of industrial design: building companions for those who have been abandoned or marginalized.
Certainly, these same stand-ins can be purchased & used by anyone. The Aibos have been extremely popular with engineers for obvious reasons, but are enjoyed by just about anyone who can afford one. Some are used as robots. study tools, but most become virtual pets--with the advantage that they can be shut off and stored when necessary with no ill-effect. Personality can be backed up on computer: if an Aibo is stolen, a new one can be purchased and the old personality immediately downloaded. There are no allergies to worry about, no shedding. Walks aren't necessary, you don't have to clean up doggie poo. You can even join Aibo clubs and meet new friends who share your passion.
It's Roomba that I find most bizarre. Apparently many owners do become attached to their vacuum cleaner, to the point that if one breaks, they insist upon that same model being fixed and returned, rather than getting a new one.
At the iRobot Rooma site, there's a forum for owners to share their ownership experiences. It makes for some fantastic reading. So far, my favorite response has been this one:
I felt bad because I knew there was no way it was ever going to work at my house with 3 dogs and 5 birds, but I took it home and tried it. Holy cow! My carpet has never been so clean. I was amazed and hugely entertained, who knew vacuum watching was a sport? It's now been 5 months and I'm still fascinated by my Roomba. It does such a good job that I want to pat it's 'head' when it's done and give it a hug for being such a good buddy. It's like having another pet. Sometimes my dogs play with it, other times they just lie there and let it bump them.
It's not uncommon to hear people refer to the Roomba as He, She or the Little Guy. Children and adults alike often think of it as a pet. Apparently many owners dub their Roombas "Rosie," I guess after the robot maid from The Jetsons, though gender assignment seems dependent upon the owner, not necessarily the vacuum design. A quick perusal of the Roomba chat site & a few others reveals the following names:
At Electrolux's Trilobite site, the flash intro actually proclaims: "The cleanest pet you'll ever own." Sadly, there's no owner chat site.
Update: iDog arrived. He's cute. His directions are all in Japanese. I can't figure the damn thing out! At this point, it's funnier to watch me try to interact with it. Blackmail material. Keep Aibo and Roomba away from me. I'm a virtual pet whore. Who knew?
The Good: He's cute! He has pretty lights! He's tiny! He may even be fun if you read Japanese and can figure out how to make him work! Did I mention cute, tiny and pretty lights?
The Bad: His directions are all in Japanese! His motor is noisy--the moving head and ears are fun but loud loud. The music sounds a little tinny. Okay, the music sounds like crap. But he's cute and has pretty lights! And...he's...well. Cute. And tiny. With...er...pretty...lights?
I'm a sucker...