by Rob Chevalier

Maybe you've noticed some odd charges on a credit card statement that you just can't remember making? It may not have been an accident after all. That "bone" you gave your Sony AIBO robotic pet last weekend may have really been a virus!

It is now official. Our personal computers and Palm Pilots are not the only devices vulnerable to threat of malicious viruses written by pimply 15 year olds. We can now add Sony's robotic dog "AIBO" to the list, and the havoc believed perpetrated by these devilish beasts is impressive if not frightening.

For those readers who are not familiar with Sony's AIBO, it's an amazingly complex collection of sensors, servos and circuitry packaged up in the form of a perpetual puppy. Though it may appear merely cute, the underlying technology is state of the art. Sony's AIBO represents the first serious foray into consumer-grade "Jetsons" inspired robots.

AIBO in Japanese means "companion". It is also an acronym for Artificial Intelligence RoBOt. Like any human or animal, AIBO goes through the developmental stages of an infant, child, teen and adult. Daily communication and attention will determine how AIBO matures. The more interaction you have with AIBO, the faster it grows up.

AIBO's brain is a 32/64-RISC Processor with 16 MB of RAM. Additional support for Sony's mini Memory Sticks gives it an extra 8 MB of removable storage. Sony has used their "real-time" operating system "Aperios" as AIBO's internal OS and has built in support for OPEN-R, which is Sony's proposal for the standard interface for entertainment robot systems. As stated by a Sony insider "our goal is to create flexible hardware architecture to make software easily interchangeable, and expand the possibilities for entertainment robots." OPEN-R specifies standards for hardware, electronics, and software architectures; if these conform to the OPEN-R standard, the same software and mechanical parts can be used to operate any robot regardless of its shape.

Sony has programmed AIBO to have 4 Instincts and 6 Emotions in what is called the "ieModel". Interactions with the dog affect these ieModel values, which in turn affect AIBO's moods. Various instincts are: Exercise, Affection, Appetite, and Curiosity. AIBO is also rather moody: Joy (AKA Happiness), Sadness, Anger, Surprise, Disgust (AKA Discontent) and Fear.

Because of AIBO's OPEN-R platform and inherent ability to read new Personalities from memory sticks, tech-savvy AIBO owners began writing their own AIBO behavior models and programs. This sparse group of AIBO groupies has grown significantly, generating it's own cult-like critical mass. There are now several AIBO web-rings providing a variety of freeware AIBO hacking tools and data browsers. Downloading new personalities ("bones") has become a very popular trend in Japan. A "Bone" is simply a complete image of an AIBO memory-stick saved as a ZIP file. Giving your AIBO a bone can be quite a blast. A few web sites to learn more about downloading bones and other AIBO hacking tools are: or visit Sony's official AIBO website:

Ironically, the very strengths that have made AIBO such an amazingly unique and successful product, have also made AIBO susceptible to viruses (mainly Trojans strains) much like our personal computers and Palm Pilots. The very popularity of AIBO, with numerous web-ring communities actively trading files, makes it the perfect environment for breeding viruses... with a fascinating Azmovian twist.

Normally, computer viruses can only cause virtual damage. That is, they crash computers and/or delete digitally stored data. The damage is definitely real but generally confined to computers and PDA devices. AIBO, however, stands to radically change this. Because AIBO is an autonomous robot, it is capable of interacting with the physical world. Therefore an AIBO specific virus is potentially capable of committing any act of deviance that a talented programmer can device, barring AIBO's physical limitation's as a virulently driven vehicle.

If the suspicions of Japanese authorities are correct, rabid AIBOs may be the cause of several mysterious and seemingly unrelated accidents, the most tragic being a fire in Oslo, Norway that claimed three lives.First thought to be an accident, It was later discovered that just 4 days prior to the tragedy, the family had downloaded the 'West Nero' virus from the internet. Interestingly, investigators discovered this only after they had intercepted an email sent to the family from an AIBO club to which they belonged warning them about the virus. Though authorities have never official determined the cause of the fire, most of the evidence point to the fire having been spread out from the fireplace (from an existing fire) and into the living room. Remnants of an AIBO and two bodies were found in the immediate area of where the fire began. This is only significant in that the AIBO appears to have been slightly burned, then smashed for whatever reasons, and then significantly burned again as the fire took hold. Although it is impossible to claim that an infected AIBO was directly responsible for the fire in Oslo, it can be said that an AIBO was definitely involved in the death of Kiriko Masuoka on February 16th, 2000 in Hakodate, Japan. Mrs. Masuoka (72) died after tripping over her grandson's pet AIBO and striking her head. Merely an accident? It was eventually discovered that just prior to the accident, the grandson had downloaded the "Princess Dianna" bone. This AIBO personality is peculiar in that when it's installed, the new code causes the AIBO to purposely walk in front of moving objects. Though it's widely believed that the true intent of the Princess Dianna virus was to cause damage to the AIBO robot itself; in this particular instance, a radically different outcome was realized. Now known as the "Masuoka Incident", the case has come to underscore the very paradigm shift that is taking place in society where robots are becoming more commonplace. When a virus can literally punch you in the face, and not necessarily on purpose, all bets are off.

It's the obscure side-effects that can kill. Chance, fate, a devious plan, and a software-bug all combining and reacting with deadly uncertainty. A recent "robotique société" symposium in Paris focused on this as "one of the five most significant fundamental changes to which society will have to adjust within the next 50 years". When average consumers are surrounded by robots weighing anything from 5 pounds to 3500 pounds, the introduction of a virus becomes a deadly business. You would not want a robotic shopping cart or animatronic-cashier to physically malfunction in your presence anymore than you would like to tango with a forklift. This is the hidden warning not attached. The unspoken comprise that society will make for a better living through technology. Accidents will always happen, and newer viruses will always be written. But now they can kill. Happy holidays!

This rogue AIBO unit was put in isolation after an "attack" on a young girl. Here it is shown repeatedly "attacking" this laboratory dummie.

Rabid robo caught on tape by fearful owner

Is this infected robot really attempting to push an infant down a flight of stairs as parents claim?

Through computer enhancements this Oslo's family AIBO is clearly visible on the roof of their burning home. Is this just a coincidence?

AIBO from the ‘Masuoka Incident’ is x-rayed by investigators

Actual image found on net while researching this article, spooky isn't it?

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