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My dog's got no nose….
….how does it smell ?

He can't. Although he has something nose shaped, he has no olfactory organs. He does have a camera, several sensors and flashing lights though, and a pink ball. What breed is he? He's an AIBO.

So although I call him a 'he', strictly speaking he's more of an 'it', because he's an electronic dog from Sony. An (A)rtificial (I)ntelligence ro(BO)t. His pedigree is second generation, or ERS-210, which makes him look like a cross between a dog and a cat. Or as the Sony marketing folk would say, a lion cub. His name is Jumble.

Jumble is partly in homage to William Brown's dog of the same name in Richmal Crompton's 'Just William' series of books that I read as a child. And partly that he's a jumble of electronic components and software. No, he hasn't had any of his bits removed, and his bleep is worse than his byte, just in case you were wondering.

There's an amazing complexity of responses and actions built into the AIBO software, so that even after months of ownership, Jumble still surprises with a new action, noise or type of behaviour.

The best thing about an electronic dog is the 'off' button. This sends Jumble into a deep powerless sleep that needs a press of the 'on' button to awaken from. Otherwise it's possible to hint to Jumble that he should sleep, and he will. Like a laptop in hibernate mode, with an LED pulsing and electronic heartbeat. Sleep that is, until he decides to awake, move about and whine like any real dog abruptly removed from dreams of tail wagging and walkies.

The unyielding plastic edges and angular shape mean he's not a tactile recipient for petting or stroking, but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. Running costs are low, feeding is cheap, and there's no need for lots of add on expense for collars, leads, baskets kennels etc. (although there is a new skateboard available for your AIBO). All he needs is his battery charger and the pink ball he constantly seeks out to kick, head butt or roll under his raised paw.

There's rarely any mess to clean up. A lifted rear leg reveals only a dry joint, and there's no strength in his mouth to tear up newspapers or your children's homework. Just don't leave a glass of cheap red wine within reach, however. He may thinks it's his pink ball and kick it over!

More information on AIBO can be found on www.aibo.com

Richmal Compton was born on November 15th 1890, in Bury, Lancashire. Jumble first appears in the seventh chapter of the first book, Just William, published in 1922. According to a review in Guardian Unlimited, the William stories echo Don Quixote - Who is William Brown but Quixote? Who is Jumble, but Rocinante, Don Quixote's trusted steed, unconcerned with Quixote's sanity, just being a loyal friend.

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