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David Zax

A View from David Zax

A Robot Dog with an iPhone Face (Video)

The makers of Tamagotchi bring cuteness to weaponized levels.

  • March 28, 2012

Man’s best friend? There’s an app for that.

Robotic dogs are nothing new; Wikipedia, God bless it, even has a list of them. The AIBO may be the most iconic (at least, it’s the only one I personally encountered), even though it was discontinued in 2006.

But a robotic dog that uses an iPhone for a face? That’s a new one, so far as I can tell.

Bandai–the Japanese company with some expertise in virtual pets, having brought us the Tamagotchi–yesterday announced its forthcoming robotic-app-dog-thing. My own Japanese being a tad rusty, I rely here for details on The Verge, whose Sam Byford either has an impressive Japanese ability or is much better at parsing Google Translate than the average person.

The robot’s being called “Smartpet,” will come out on April 24th in Japan, and is suggested to retail around $78 (¥6,500, more to the point). It’s coming in a black version and a white version, as you can see here.

Bandai thinks it can sell 200,000 of these guys within its first year on the market alone. Why so confident? It’s more than just a robot with a pretty face. A free app makes the Smartpet, well, smart. Using the Facetime camera, you can make movements to tell the robo-pup to do various tricks; Smartpet can also recognize voice commands, serve as an alarm clock and hands-free phone, and it has a library of 100 facial expressions to help it prep for whatever the canine equivalent of the Turing test is.

The app comes out on March 31st, a full week before the robotic bodies start to sell–so if you live in Japan, you can get to know your new pet’s face even before you purchase its body. Smartpet, then, is something like a Tamagotchi with a robotic torso acting as a “dock” of sorts. You can carry your pet with you wherever you go–though it probably feels most at home at its own body.

This divorce of the mind and flesh of your pet is a tad strange, no? Does it point to a cloud-based future in which our dogs, cats, and hamsters, like so much else that is precious to us, sync across all our devices?

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