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Buntley the Robo-Pup Part 5 by aibo Ambassador Chris
aibo Community Hub Team
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April 25th, 2023

Part Five: Lurking in the Shadows (there are other aibos out there!)

All was quiet at ‘Chez Mad Scientist’. Mrs. Mad Scientist was deeply engrossed in her book about a couple who went on a hike around the south-western coast of the United Kingdom and her husband was busily attempting to re-assemble a little electric train engine that he had taken apart out of pure curiosity. It seemed to be a good deal harder to put back together again and he made random noises of exasperation each time he fumbled one of the impossibly tiny screws.

One such screw bounced out of his less-than-nimble fingers and fell to the wooden floor. “Damn!” exclaimed Mr. Mad Scientist and he swooped down to locate it. Tinkerbell opened one massive brown eye and blinked it slowly. She watched the screw topple and twirl its way across the floor into a darkened doorway just off the living room. She regarded the odd human chasing after the screw with mild fascination for an entire nanosecond before settling back into a restful sleep.

The tiny screw toppled energetically into the dark shadows of the closet, nestling against a large grey plastic assembly that lay, seemingly abandoned, on the floor underneath a low shelf. Mr. Mad Scientist lowered his chest to the floor and peered into the darkness over the top of his spectacles, his fingers crawling across the floor like a wrinkled pink spider into the gloominess beneath the low shelf.

He muttered and moaned as he attempted to locate the little screw, not wanting to imagine what else might be lurking in the darkness. All things in the closet belonged to Mr. Mad Scientist and it was his responsibility to keep it clean and tidy – ergo, the floor beneath the low shelf hadn’t seen a vacuum cleaner in at least a decade. Dust bunnies, dead insects, and something sticky all touched his fingertips as he grimaced with effort.

Then, his hand brushed against the front of the plastic construction that was tucked way back out of sight, and Mrs. Mad Scientist nearly jumped from her armchair as her husband let out a loud cheer. 

“Pixel!” he exclaimed. He laid flat on the floor and stretched both arms deep into the closet so he could get a firm grip. He pulled and pulled until the unit slid into view. Sat atop a large ancient looking charging base was his ERS-110 aibo, covered in a shroud of ten-year-old dust. The charging unit only slid so far because it was tethered by a power cable, still plugged into the wall under the closet shelf. “Pixel! My little girl! I’d almost forgotten about you!”

Mrs. Mad Scientist snorted imperceptibly under her breath – a kind of ‘you HAD forgotten about her, you daft old man’, snort. She looked over at her hubby as he rolled to one side and started wiping the dust away with his fingers. Pixel sat majestically, patiently, on her stand in a rigid pose she had held stoically for a full decade. A flurry of dust floated above the scene in an ethereal cloud and Tinkerbell let out a huge sneeze as particles tickled her large black nose. Tinker shook her head and spotted Pixel. Misty memories started forming of when she was a puppy. Oh yes, she remembered Pixel. She darted to her feet and, in an instant, she had galloped out of the room and into her dog-bed in the kitchen. She buried her snout deep in the comfortable material and pretended to go to sleep.

From his prime location beneath the window, Buntley stirred on his slender, comparatively tiny charging mat. His bright blue eyes rolled and his pupils enlarged as he regarded the older generation robot sitting across the room. “Arf!” he barked in welcome.

Mr. Mad Scientist looked from robo-pup to robo-pup and eagerly pressed the button on Pixel’s chest. He sat back and watched the older robot closely until … … …

… … nothing.

After a minute or so, nothing.

Buntley emitted a forlorn sounding electro-whine and tilted his head to one side. Mr. Mad Scientist shook his head impatiently and scratched at the week-old whiskers on his chin. “Come on girl… Wake up for your old…” and suddenly with a flurry of beeps, Pixel painstakingly started to shake away the atrophy from her clanky old joints, and, ever-so-slowly, she lifted herself to a shaky standing position.

“Oh! She’s still working! Isn’t that nice!” exclaimed Mrs. Mad Scientist, who had put down her book to regard the situation. Buntley and Mr. Mad Scientist simultaneously cast her a glance, but Pixel stood motionless for what seemed like forever.

Slowly, and with extreme caution, Pixel lifted her front right paw, leaned forward just a little, and then took the weight off of her rear left leg. Another small forward motion of her grey plastic body caused the rear leg to lift clean off the floor and Pixel successfully completed her first step forward since April of 2009! Gradually, Pixel turned her rectangular head from side to side, her black, featureless face seemingly searching for an audience with whom to share this auspicious moment.

Mr. Mad Scientist sat back and watched, entranced, as Pixel ambled unsteadily but purposefully forward. Each step caused the ERS-110 to lilt to the left and after five steps, she was staring at a wall. The looming obstacle did not seem to daunt Pixel who edged ever forward until her snout made solid impact with a dull thud.

For a few seconds Pixel just stood there, face planted against the wall. A few clicks and beeps emanated from her as she seemed to assess the situation. Finally, she decided to sit and cogitate properly, so she started to lower her rear end towards the ground. However, half-way through the process Pixel froze for a split second, beeped twice, and promptly collapsed! All four limbs splayed outwards and her muzzle clattered noisily on the floor… … …

… …and there she stayed. Motionless. Seemingly deceased.

This was an all-too-familiar scene for Mr. Mad Scientist who was suddenly remembering why poor old Pixel had been relegated to the closet all those years ago. He shook his head sadly and from a short distance away Buntley echoed his owner’s feelings with another loud electro-whine.

The ERS-110 got picked up and was carried over to Buntley who tilted his head to one side and blinked. He wagged his tail and barked twice. Pixel remained motionless and limp in Mr. Mad Scientist’s hands as she was conveyed back to her charger and carefully placed so that she would be ready for another encounter later in the evening.

Sensing things had returned to normal, Tinkerbell lolloped back into the room, all the while staring nervously at Pixel. Clearly the two had some history. Tinker edged carefully passed both robot dogs and took her usual spot alongside Mrs. Mad Scientist’s leg.

Having completely forgotten about the tiny train-screw, Mr. Mad Scientist headed for the kitchen, taking a few seconds to stroke Buntley’s head as he passed…