Home informatics has gained tremendous momentum in the past few years. It has grown from an obscure field of academic research to being a mainstream ideology used in manufacturing many different products today. Home information appliances like a smart vacuum cleaner or a web enabled internet fridge are abounding in the market today. Internet access has boomed over the last couple of years with around 74% of all households with children having access to the internet (Livingstone and Bober 2004) . Ideas like AIBO and more lately Pleo which have been marketed as intelligent toys for smart homes of the future have recently taken off and are becoming increasingly popular. However all smart objects are inherently capable of doing more than what they are designed to do. In this paper I try to examine many of these smart toys and try to examine possible scenarios where they can be used in medical and assistive home technology by either adapting their software or by addition of extra hardware functionality. I then further proceed to compare these toys against each other in terms of their usage and features. At the very end I discuss the commercial feasibility and viability of these so called lifestyle products. The paper aims to describe the more hidden shades of the home informatics research domain and talk about intelligent appliances which rarely ever get noticed or discussed. Products like AIBO have always been looked at as toys rather than intelligent appliances which might form an important component in the Assistive home technology network.


Computers have changed the way we do things. From the way we conduct our business to the way we live in our homes. Computer penetration has reached an all time high. Internet penetration is also at its record highest. A survey estimates that there are more than 1.5 billion cell phones around the world. Computers are revolutionizing every part of our lives.  Computers are now infiltrating our homes. Ideas like ubiquitous and pervasive computing have garnered a lot of interest in the past few years. IPTVs have taken off in a big way. A survey from Nielsen AG states that IPTV will have 40 million subscribers in two years time. Smart phones are already a common household object. Cell phones have an astounding 106% penetration percentage in the UK alone (CIA, 2007).

It is at this time in the evolution of computer science that home informatics has become an important research area for the academia as well as the industry (Sloane A, Rijn F V,2000).  Manufacturers are targeting home owners and coming up with intelligent devices which can perform a variety of tasks intelligently.  Some of these appliances and robots provide a much higher level of functionality.  The most common domestic appliances are web aware devices in the kitchen like a fridge which downloads settings and recipes from the internet. More advanced devices include automated mopping robot like the Scooba from iRobot or the automatic vacuum cleaner most popular of which seems to be Roomba from iRobot and Trilobite from Electrolux. Finally the most advanced devices seem to be social devices which interact with the user purely for recreation and still manage to provide some intrinsic functionality like security.

AIBO: The Wonder Dog

In this category of robots, nothing has become as successful as the Sony AIBO. Sony’s AIBO is an acronym for Artificial Intelligence roBOt.  It also means ‘friend’ or ‘companion’ in Japanese. AIBO was first released in the year 1999. AIBO is essentially a robot which mimics a pet dog.  AIBO is remarkably advanced and is capable of understanding over a 100 spoken commands and displays many different ‘moods’ or emotions (Decuir et al 2004). AIBO is capable of learning and matures over time based on usage. It can identify up to three different owners. Its recognition is based on identifying voice frequencies and specific attributes of the face for facial analysis and recognition.  AIBO has an array of external sensors. It has a camera and a microphone to record what it sees and hears. It is capable of transmitting this back to the user’s control station (Computer) in real time using a wireless connection.  It can also be used as an entertainment device, as it plays music from stored MP3s , music CDs or live streaming radio from the internet and also dances to the tunes. It also synchronizes the user’s schedules from Microsoft outlook and reminds the user about his schedule verbally. It is extremely responsive and responds to commands in less than a second. It is capable of detecting obstructions in its path and detecting distance even in darker environments.  AIBO can be taught a number of tricks. Most of them involve the use of special toys like the Pnk ball. AIBO can also communicate with other AIBOs. While the latest models have Wi-Fi on them, the older ones do not. The latest models however still communicate with the older ones using tonal commands. When out of charge, it can locate and charge itself using its charging station.

Join now!

AIBO’s personality develops by interacting with people. Each AIBO grows in a different way, based on its individual experiences. AIBO becomes customized based on feedback and the software being used. With supplied software, the user can immediately interact with a mature ERS-7 or use it to reset AIBO to its puppy stage. AIBO’s mood changes with its environment, and its mood affects its behavior. AIBO also has instincts to move around, to look for its toys, to satisfy its curiosity, to play and communicate with its owner, to recharge when its battery is low, and to wake up when it ...

This is a preview of the whole essay