The Sony Aibo was a line of electronic dogs that were popular in the early 2000s.
They were a hot gift back then, a pre-future robotic offering that suggested that real dogs might one day be replaced with plastic, metallic alternatives. The dogs cost over two thousand dollars and there were supposedly only 150,000 made. These physicalized Tamagotchis never really caught on beyond expensive gag gifts and super niche tech enthusiasts. From its hitting the market in 1998 to it’s going to bed in 2005, these dogs were a pop culture entry representative of an era.
A decade later, what is the state of the Aibo? Obviously they are a decade out of production but they still have a fairly potent fanbase of Aibo owners who love their toy dogs like real dogs. The catch here, as is the catch with real dogs, is that they are reaching a point where they are beyond repair. The parts to keep the dogs working are running out and, despite a potential to live forever, the demand for these dogs to do so is fairly nil.
The resulting Aibo fandom in 2016 is the source of a really great documentary about what happens when robot pets start to die. Edited and shot by Drea Cooper for the New York Times, the piece is the sort of oddball alt-reality where people don’t know that real dogs exist yet they still seek the same affection from these not-dogs. There’s something so lovely and heartbreaking about the story that, although eight minutes, feels like a lifetime of feelings.
Aibo and dog owners alike will find something very special about the piece. You can watch it below and read more about it here.