Tech Blog

WowWee’s CHiP- The robot dog who learns

CHiP- Canine Home Intelligent Pet

I have always been fascinated with toys that include cutting-edge technology. I had a Tamagotchi, a Gigapet, a Furby, among others. My interest in machine  learning started early. My interest was piqued when I saw the new Aibo was due to be released soon. My excitement faded once I realized it wouldn’t be released in the United States for a good while longer.

That’s when I came across CHiP (short for Canine Home Intelligent Pet). The amazing thing about CHiP is that you can shape his personality through the way you interact with him. As the company claims: because of this no two CHiP are alike, there’s no CHiP like your CHiP. So basically: CHiP has the ability to learn.

This follows the general rule of machine learning. The more data a machine learning system has to work with, the better that machine learns. CHiP is no different. He gains the data he needs to learn through touch sensors, voice commands, playing with his Smartball, and your interactions with him via the accompanying app (feeding him, teaching him tricks, giving praise or a scolding). He also come with a Smartband (which looks much like a smartwatch) and this lets him know who his master is and allows you to issue some commands.

A breakdown of CHiP's build and the tools that accompany him

A toy that can learn and one that lets you shape the way it interacts with you was a really exciting prospect so we purchased one. We booted up CHiP and started interacting with him. There are some commands he comes preprogrammed to recognize: sit, down, play ball, and my favorite- dance. He seeks attention and is truly eager to play. When he gets tired he knows to return to his charging “bed”.

The first day anyone was able to give commands and CHiP would recognize them. All you need to do is say “Hey CHiP” and then the command. But CHiP started to tune into the frequency of my significant other’s voice and stopped recognizing mine by the second day. His personality started to change as well, the more interaction he got. He became very excited by playing ball and would cry if too much time went by when he was awake and he didn’t get attention. After a period of inactivity he will go into sleep mode (like many computers do).

He also comes with a useful app that give you tips and pointers, lets you feed your CHiP, and give your CHiP specialized commands.

Because of the machine learning component which allows for the customization of your robot pet, CHiP has gained a lot of attention in the media; even showing up on the Today Show.

But how does CHiP compare to robotic pets of the past? Let’s see how he measures up to the original Aibo series (made from 1999 to 2005, with 9 models spanning 3 generations) and the ever-popular Furby (produced from 1998 to 2002, 2005-2007, and 2012 onward). Let’s take a look at Aibo.

The AIBO family

AIBO (Artificial Intelligence roBOt) was “born” out of Sony’s Computer Science Laboratory (CSL) in 1998 with the first prototype that most closely matches the first consumer available AIBO. The first AIBOs included touch sensors, camera, microphone and actuators for the legs, neck, mouth, and tail. It could control its own speed and direction and came with a charging dock and a ball. The AIBOLife software included in all AIBOs give the robot pup a personality, the ability to “see” its environment via the camera, and recognize voice commands in Japanese, English, and Spanish using its in-built microphone.

The first AIBO
Third Generation AIBO

Later versions included more sensors (such as pressure sensors) and a LED facial display as well as actuation in the ears as far as hardware goes. Certain models came preprogrammed with different personalities (like the sweetheart Latte and the mischievous Macaron)and Wi-Fi capability.

The one huge perk of AIBOs is that they included the ability to upload different software packages to its operating system from the outset. The early AIBOs came with 3 software modes: Life (raising it from a puppy to an adult, with milestones being hit after a set amount of time interacting with it), Explorer (the AIBO is fully grown and will understand but not always obey 100 voice commands),and with no uploaded AIBOware it runs in Clinic mode which allows it to perform basic actions.

A lot of third party developers started to make software for AIBO and if you happen to be proficient in C++ or R-CODE you can create your own software programs.

That said, none of the AIBO Generations 1-3 are able to really learn. They hit certain benchmarks after a certain amount of interaction with people. The “personality” of the AIBO is pre-programmed (though you can change it with software uploads). It’s a great toy but it’s not terribly dynamic in the learning department.

That brings us to the hugely popular Furby

Furbys first hit the toy market in 1998. They were the first domestically-aimed robot to be successful. As far as robots go nowadays the first generation was fairly basic, but at the time they came out there wasn’t really anything else like them. Furbys came with pressure sensors in their mouth, stomach and back. They were able to open and close their eyes, move their ears, open and close their mouths, shift from side to side, and contain an infrared sensor in their forehead that allows them to sense light/dark as well as communicate with other Furbies. One of the problems with the first generations of Furby was that if you touched or disturbed it, it was near impossible to get it to go back into sleep mode. Personally, I solved this problem by placing it in the freezer, because cold slows down the electrical current from the batteries and the dark told the Furby it was night time.

They start out speaking their own language (Furbish) and learn English as they “grow up”. By the time they’re “adults” they use almost exclusively English (or any of 24 other languages, depending on where it was purchased). Their popularity spawned all sorts of evolutions such as Furby Babies and Furby Friends. But to stay competitive in the fast-paced tech toy market Furbies had to get smarter

The first Furby released (left) and the latest version (right)

In August of 2005 the Emoto-Tronic Furbies were released. These Furbies solved the problem the originals had of not being able to get them to “sleep” by including an on/off switch, one word sleep command and removing the light and motion sensors. They had voice recognition, allowing them to communicate more effectively with humans and had more expressive faces. They couldn’t communicate with the original Furbies.

In 2012 a new breed of Furby was released that had more emotive LCD eyes and an accompanying app that allowed you to adapt its personality, this Furby would also go to “sleep” after a minute of inactivity.

The latest version of Furby looks much different than the original as you can see in the picture above (right). It’s called the Furby Connect. It also comes with an app which contains the world of the Furblingsfor the Furby Connect to interact with. Hasbro seems to have dialed back on customization because you cannot change the personality of this version.

All Furbies “learn” English along a similar amount of interaction with it. This means that the type of learning this toy does is not really machine learning but a preprogrammed response to stimuli.

So in terms of machine learning capability there’s no question as to which toy leads the pack for now, CHiP. With new technology coming out all the time technology that learns and can become personalized to you the more you interact with it makes it truly exciting to see what is coming out next. Robots and bots (like BPU Holdings’ own personal curator bot app, Neil) are becoming more and more tailored to each individual user which makes this a thrilling time to be in the fields of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and technology in general.

For information on CHiP you can visit WowWee’s website: Meet CHiP

For more information on Sony’s AIBO you can visit the AIBO website: aibo

For more information on Furbies you can visit Hasbro’s website: Furby Official Website