CES: Wowwee has must-have toys

IMG_0550.jpgI've long been a little skeptical of Wowwee, makers of the Robosapien. Their black and white toys seemed rather basic and the little dog I have didn't appear to be much advanced beyond the walking and mooing cow I had when I was a toddler (my first robot. It annoyed my parents so much they removed the batteries and told me it died. I've never gotten over it). Frankly, they just seemed boring.

I am very pleased to report that I have been proven wrong. Wowwee's next generation of robot toys on display here at CES are, in a word, awesome.

My favorite is Robosapien's newly developed girlfriend, the Femisapien.

Finally, I can have my own hardsuit! Femisapien is a biped with a handful of obstacle avoidance sensors and a number of switches in her arms and head that allow the user to program her for different movements. Five different motors allow a range of motion in the arms, legs, and hips, in a surprisingly graceful dance-like gait. She also has sound response and when with other Femisapiens or Robosapiens, she can respond in different ways. Running on 6AA batteries you get about 10 hours of active life or 36 hours of "pose" mode; the lack of a rechargeable battery is a little annoying, but the tradeoff is in the price -- when she's released in September, she'll retail for $99. Not bad. Have a look at this video of three dancing Femisapiens:

IMG_0547.JPG Next up is Rex the Dog, the long-lost distanct cousin of the Sony AIBO. Rex is a "junkyard dog" made of scraps, and as a result he can get a little crazy. Rex is meant to be an interactive toy, so it can jump in to different types of moods -- happy, sad, angry, "breakdown", and even one mode where it gets confused and thinks it's a cat and starts meowing. 14 motors in the dog's face change its expression and control "slot machine" eyes that spin to different icons to reveal Rex's current mood. Rex tools around with two front paws and back wheels and seems to be very friendly. Of all the new robots Wowwee has here, Rex will be out the soonest -- this spring -- for $149.

Then there are the robot siblings: Tribot and Mr. Personality. Both robots have an omni drive permitting holomonic motion in all directions and there's a lot of speed in the drive train, similar to an RC car -- that's a big change from the slow walking of the Robosapien. Tribot is for young kids; he's bright red and is described as a "cartoon character" and "a kid come to life." He has about ten minutes total of content that he splits up as commentary and conversation with his owner. There's an guard mode for a young owner to protect his or her bedroom from unwanted visitors as well as an alarm clock with no snooze button -- you have to get out of bed and catch Tribot to turn him off. A handful of interactive games that are programmed in are meant to keep kids entertained.

Tribot's older brother, Mr. Personality, has an LCD screen face and more than 90 IMG_0553.jpg

minutes of content. Mr. Personality tells jokes, stories, and offers sarcastic commentary on your activities (get home at 3 am? He'll ask you where you've been so late). When you get bored of his bad jokes, other personalities will be downloadable from Wowwee's website and can be loaded onto an SD card inserted into Mr. Personality's head. Like Femisapien, Tribot and Mr. Personality rely on replaceable batteries, but Mr. Personality can also be plugged into the wall. The idea is that you should never have to turn him off; just put him on a shelf plugged in and he'll wait for the next time you want some entertainment. I can see this guy being popular at fraternities.

Tribot will set you back $99 and Mr. Personality will be $249, both coming this September.

These are just really exciting. They're all incredibly different and do more than just walk around; they're much more interactive than the older robots and are more exciting to look at. With LCD screens faces, slot machine eyeballs, and graceful movement, these are things even *I* want to play with. And this is not to mention that the neat drive trains, obstacle avoidance sensors, and ability to communicate with similar toys in the vicinity make them much more obviously related to the big expensive bots that are out there. These really do seem like robots, and I'm pleased that Wowwee is working so hard to get more robots into the hands of average people.



IEEE Spectrum’s award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, drones, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
Contact us:  e.guizzo@ieee.org

Erico Guizzo
New York City
Senior Writer
Evan Ackerman
Washington, D.C.

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