Since Sony announced a major restructuring and downsizing last week, everyone is speculating where the axe will fall. Where will Sony focus, and where will they cut? And, for robot fans, will the Aibo survive?
An article in the Asahi business section on Friday tries to address that question, but falls short of the mark. The article (in Japanese) raises concerns that Sony has made it clear that they will reduce their focus on robotics as they do a complete structural reform of their electronics business.
The latest Aibo release increases its vocabularly from 200 to 1,000 words, adds wireless LAN image transfer and enhanced PC communication. The suggested price tag – 194,250 yen (roughly equivalent to about USD$ 1,900). Those enhancements, while certainly welcomed, probably aren’t earthshaking enough to keep Aibo alive and well as a business for Sony.
Aibo made its first appearance in 1999 – over five years ago, and has managed to sell just over 150,000 units. The current sales rate is thought to be around 10,000 units a year. Of course it generates a lot of publicity for Sony, but its profitability is certainly questionable. Can Sony see its way clear to continue major investment in consumer focused robotics, or will it cut its losses to focus on other markets in order to survive? The Sony comments in the article don’t address the question squarely, and just indicate that although R&D for their robotics businesses have been reduced, it is the desire of the people connected with the business to continue its evolution.