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Toyota works with Sony to turn Aibo into a car

PC World
Sony's robot dog Aibo will soon have suitable transport in Toyota's 'Pod' tail-wagging car.  

By Kuriko Miyake

Chiba, Japan (IDG) -- Imagine your car acting like your pet, or more like your companion: When you're feeling a little down, your car senses it and plays cheerful music for you. .

Toyota Motor and Sony demonstrated the "Pod," a conceptual vehicle version of Aibo, Sony's dog-like entertainment pet robot, at the Tokyo Motor Show 200. The car gradually learns its user's driving habits, personality, tastes and interests and eventually starts providing what the user needs automatically, says Yasunori Sakamoto, a developer at the Advanced Design Division of Toyota.

For example, the Pod can detect its user's driving skills and compare them to prerecorded driving data of an expert driver. It then displays words of praise or warning on its monitor, according to a Toyota statement.

A portable terminal called "Mini Pod" becomes a substitute for the Pod when the owner is away from the car. It can store entertainment data according to the users' tastes, such as music and TV programs beforehand, and also works as a keyless entry device. INFOCENTER
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When the terminal is placed back in the Pod, it will start providing background music and shopping guidance, using that data.

If a musician's name has been installed in Mini Pod and is then mentioned during a conversation between a driver and passengers, the Pod's sensor detects the keywords and the car automatically starts searching for that musician's songs via the Internet. It then downloads and plays them, Sakamoto says. When the car is passing a restaurant that serves the users' favorite foods, it will let them know, he says.

The Pod communicates not only with users inside the car, but also expresses the driver's and its "own" emotions on its exterior, according to the companies.

The front of the car is decorated with LEDs that change color to show feelings. When the Pod's owner approaches, it lights in yellow to say "happy," for example. It detects when the driver is falling asleep behind the wheel by using a face recognition sensor, and warns other cars, Sakamoto says.

At the back, an attached tail can swing to say "thank you" to a following car for giving way.

The Pod has been designed with a completely different driving method from existing cars. One finger can control driving functions from the accelerator to the brake using a "touch controller," Sakamoto says.

"The prototype can be driven by the touch controller, so this car is technically ready for practical use," he said. "The communication parts are up to its infrastructures in cities, such as the radio DSRC (dedicated short range communication) system."

Although the present automobile industry focus is on safety and environment, Toyota is trying to attract users with entertainment, Sakamoto says. "For that purpose, Sony was an appropriate company to work with."

Suzuki Motor has also incorporated telecommunication functions into a product, this time into the limited space on a motorcycle. It unveiled its communicative "B-King" prototype at the Tokyo Motor Show.

The motorcycle allows its user to check its mechanical condition by phone, or lets the owner know when it is attacked by a thief. This simple system, combining GPS and mobile phone, can be in practical use within two years, Suzuki says.

Tokyo Motor Show 2001 continues until November 7.


• Sony Aibo

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