Friday, December 7, 2007

Pleo: PCMag review

Pleo walks and moves smoothly, but it's slow, and
unlike a real puppy, cannot run into your arms. You can make it come to
you by holding its legs for three seconds, but then there'll be a long,
long wait for it to arrive. Pleo has force feedback sensors in its
legs, but they're currently not enabled. That much was obvious whenever
I lifted it by its stomach, which positioned my hand in the middle of
its four legs. Both my 12-year-old son and I had the experience of Pleo
nearly crushing our hands. No damage was done, but the robot seems
unaware that our digits were there.

The rubber skin smells funny, and stroking it is
somewhat difficult—your hand will drag along the brightly colored
rubber flesh.

Charging Pleo's removable battery can take 3
hours in a recharging station that sometimes makes it difficult to
properly seat the battery, and then you get roughly an hour of
playtime. There's no visual indicator or beep that lets you know when
Pleo is running out of juice. It just slows down and eventually stops.
I remember how Sony's AIBO robot dog could actually hunt for its
charging station when it was running out of power. On the other hand,
it was often too far from the base to make it and ended up temporarily
dead on the kitchen floor.

Article Link (PCMag)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Robovie-X 'Bot Fires Missiles at Moving Targets, Plays Dress-Up


Robovie-X is a new robot kit from Japanese DIY maker ATR. Not only can
it use its fully-programmable 17 degrees of freedom and optical
distance sensors to follow moving targets and fire at them with a
surprisingly powerful plastic missile launcher, it can also,
apparently, shed its armor and dress up as a jazz-hands-waving Foghorn
Leghorn or a white-gloved Michael Jackson archer.
Article Link (Gizmodo)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Google Announces Fastest Growing Search Terms

Yesterday Yahoo announced its top search trends for 2007. Google’s list traditionally come later in December (here’s last years list),
but today VP of Search and User Experience Marissa Mayer revealed the
“fastest rising U.S. search terms” on the Today Show. Thank
God the Britney losers either don’t hang out on Google, or else Google has the sense to just filter it out as background noise.

The queries are below. It’s not clear how different these will
be from the year-end Zeitgeist list. Last year Google described how
they came up with the list: “we looked for those searches
that were very popular in 2006 but were not as popular in 2005 —
the explosive queries, the topics that everyone obsessed over. To come
up with this list, we looked at several thousand of 2006’s most
popular searches, and ranked them based on how much their popularity
increased compared to 2005.”
That sounds a lot like how this list would be compiled.

1. iphone

2. webkinz

3. tmz

4. transformers

5. youtube

6. club penguin

7. myspace

8. heroes

9. facebook

10. anna nicole smith

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Things you should not do to your Pleo

We're really enjoying the Pleo manual's list of things you shouldn't do with your Pleo. Officially you should make sure you don't:

  • Abuse Pleo
  • Get Pleo wet
  • Throw, drop, or violently shake Pleo
  • Sit on Pleo
  • Place Pleo near heat or flames
  • Place Pleo in sand, soil, or mud
  • Leave Pleo with other pets or animals capable of biting or damaging him
  • Risk overheating Pleo by covering him with a blanket during play
  • Allow small children to play with Pleo unsupervised

So naturally we had to whip up our own supplemental list. We think you should never, EVER:

  • Let Pleo know where you keep the cash
  • Taunt happy fun Pleo
  • Let Pleo have more than two drinks
  • Divulge to Pleo Bush's famous secret family recipe for baked beans
  • Pretend that Pleo will love you back
  • Feed Pleo after midnight; get it wet
  • Attempt to housetrain Pleo by rubbing its nose in own e-xcrement
  • Call the cops, man, Pleo just needs a place to crash for the night
  • Punch Pleo, especially in the gut -- Pleo knows where you live
  • Let Pleo continuously check in and out of rehab
  • Remove skin, for this is the stuff of nightmares
  • Have Pleo spayed or neutered; Despite Bob Barker's incessant recommendations this will not stop the impending robot revolution

Leave your own below. Fear Pleo.
Article Link (Engadget)

America's vulnerable economy

Signs suggest that the economy could stall in this quarter. By early next year, output and jobs could be shrinking. The main cause is the imploding housing market. Experts said that house prices could never fall nationwide. But fall they have, by 5% in the past 12 months. Residential investment has collapsed, but a glut of unsold homes means that prices have much further to drop. Americans' spending is likely to be dented much more by a fall in house prices than it was in 2001 by the stockmarket's collapse. With house prices lower and credit conditions tighter as a result of the subprime crisis, households can no longer borrow against capital gains to support their spending.

Dearer oil is set to squeeze households further (this week's drop in crude prices notwithstanding). Consumer confidence has already fallen sharply. It cannot be long before consumer spending stumbles, which in turn would hurt companies' profits and investment. The weak dollar will boost exports, but at only 12% of GDP, exports are too small to make up for a weakening of consumer spending, which accounts for 70%.

America's importance as an engine of global growth has been
exaggerated. Since 2000 its share of world imports has dropped from 19%
to 14%. Its vast current-account deficit has started to shrink, meaning
that America is no longer pulling along the rest of the world.

Article Link (Economist)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Teen Survey of preferences

Where do they learn about cool, new products?

The interweb, of course (65 percent)

Friends come next (62 percent)

TV commercials third (54 percent)

We know they're headed to the malls (95 percent), but which stores are they going to?

Electronics (46 percent)

Bath & body (45 percent)

Music (surprise. surprise.) (41 percent)

Who gets the most of teens' hard earned money? ($100 or more)

Their sweetie (28 percent)

Mom and dad (20 percent)

Grandma and grandpa (18 percent)

What do they want most?

Money! (39 percent)

Laptop or desktop computer (30 percent)

Clothes (25 percent)

A new car! (24 percent)

If they could ask for just one gift, it would be:

Laptop/desktop computer (15 percent)

Money (12 percent)

Car (11 percent)

And as for the brands they want?

When specifically asked about brands, Apple was the most
cited brand in the music technology category, Dell was ranked #1 for
computers/laptops, the Motorola RAZR phone led the mobile phone
category, and Microsoft’s X-Box 360 was the leading video game console,
while Halo 3 was the leading video game. Abercrombie and Fitch was the
clothing brand most teens say they want and when it comes to cars, Ford
and Cheverolet brands were most cited.

I'm surprised by the RAZR vs. the iPhone and by American auto brands
vs. Toyota and Honda. The biggest take away is that eCommerce still as
a long way to go in attracting teens because of credit cards/payment
and they view shopping as a social activity they do with their friends
at the mall. The exceptions would be for online retailers selling
something you can't find offline. Obviously teens check out retail
websites to find what they want, but they are still buying it in

Update: Weekly Reader also surveyed tweens and teens 8-17 on which consoles and games they wanted and found...

Eight of 10 children said they would ask for a video game;
the five favorites, the survey found, are Guitar Hero, Mario Party DS,
Super Mario Galaxy, My Sims and Halo 3.

And nearly six out of 10 (59%) intend to ask for a console game
system as a holiday gift. Most popular? The Nintendo Wii (32% plan to
ask for it), followed by the Sony PlayStation 3 (19%) and Microsoft
Xbox 360 (17%).

Article Link

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

What kids learn in virtual worlds

Doug Thomas, associate professor at USC's Annenberg School of
Communication, said during the panel that much of what's happening in
virtual environments is informal learning. In many cases, kids are
getting an early education with technology, learning how to be members
of a citizenship, and picking up skills that they'll need in the future
workforce, Thomas said.

The downside, he said, is the inherently commercial nature of virtual worlds like Club Penguin and Webkinz,
which encourage kids to play games, dress up online characters, and buy
virtual goods to decorate their in-world homes or avatars.

"If you're a parent, I would be much less concerned about things
like online predators or violence, then I would be about the conflation
between consumption and consumerism and citizenship (in virtual
worlds). Because our kids are being taught that to be a good citizen of
this world you got to buy the right stuff," Thomas said during the
panel, which was being simulcast via video over the Internet.

The panel came together to talk about the promise and pitfalls of virtual worlds from an educational and commercial viewpoint. Virtual games like Club Penguin and Webkinz
have become much more popular with 6- to 14-year-olds in the last two
years, attracting tens of millions of members. Researchers estimate
that more than 50 percent of kids on the Internet will belong to such
an environment by 2012, double that of the current population of
virtual world members.

Meanwhile, many educators herald virtual environments for their
educational potential because they manage to get kids extremely
engaged. Thomas, for example, works with kids in an educational virtual
world called Modern Prometheus.
He said the environment is useful for teaching children about subjects
that can be difficult to teach in the classroom, such as ethics. The
game allows the kids to play out scenarios involving ethical decisions
over and over from different angles, letting them see the various
effects, he said.

Most people in America still haven't even heard of virtual worlds,
but that's changing, said Julia Stasch, vice president for domestic
grant-making at MacArthur. This generation is the first to grow up
digital and everyone needs to be paying attention to what kids
themselves have to say, Stasch said.

Bullying, racism, homophobia, every cultural ill is replicated in
virtual worlds," Thomas said. "If you went to any sixth grade class and
studied it for a year, all the good, bad, and ugly shows up in a
virtual world just like every class, and we should all be mindful of

Article Link

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Monday, November 19, 2007

U.S. Teens Spending Power for Crucial Holiday Season Could Bode Well for Traditional Retailers

Where do you learn about                                     Total
cool new products? Teens

Internet 65 %
Friends 62 %
Commercials on TV 54 %
Magazines 48 %
TV shows 38 %
Shopping 38 %
Movies 29 %
Ads in theatres before the movie 21 %
Siblings 21 %
Parents 19 %
Celebrities 14 %
Other 2 %
None of the above 5 %

Please tell us how/where Total
you plan to shop this holiday Teens

Electronics store 46 %
Bath/body store 45 %
Music store 41 %
Chain clothing store 38 %
Mass merchandise store 37 %
Accessory store 35 %
Department store 35 %
Bookstore 35 %
Sporting goods store 29 %
Athletic shoe store 26 %
Video store 25 %
Pet supply store 24 %
Cell phone/wireless store 23 %
Discount chain store 18 %
Specialty/local boutique 13 %
Store websites 13 %
Through a catalog or mail order 12 %
Home improvement/decorating store 12 %
Online store 12 %
Thrift/secondhand/vintage store 8 %
Supermarket/food store 8 %
Online auction site 8 %
Drugstore 4 %
Convenience store 4 %
Home shopping Network/QVC 3 %

Plan to spend "$100 or Total
more" of my own money on: Teens

Boyfriend/Girlfriend 28 %
Parents 20 %
Grandparents 18 %
Boss 17 %
Nieces/Nephews 15 %
Siblings 13 %
Aunts, Uncles or Cousins 13 %
Co-workers (other than boss) 11 %
Teachers 11 %
Pets 9 %
Best Friend 9 %
Classmates 9 %
Secret Santa(s) 8 %

Article Link
Other friends 7 %
Other 9 %

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

"The Pleo Song" takes our breath away

It's no secret: songs about gadgets are a scourge upon the earth.
And that's why they're awesome. The latest of these little ditties
that'll have you humming in the shower tomorrow morning -- and raving
like a lunatic the day after -- is "The Pleo Song," courtesy of
RobotsRule. The song was written to celebrate Ugobe's announcement of
30 day shipping notices for Pleo,
which we suppose is as good an excuse as any to write a gratingly bad
song about a robotic dinosaur. "Remember the heart of a child knows
that love goes with Pleo." If you still think you can stomach it after
that little teaser, the YouTube version is after the break.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Virtual Fun And Games

Virtual worlds that cater to kids and teens in a safe, low-tech
environment are experiencing the biggest surge in population growth.
Korea's Cyworld, which also has a U.S. outpost, gets monthly return
visits from more than 15 million young adults who decorate online rooms
and spend and earn "acorns" on the site. Finnish Habbo Hotel attracts a
similar crowd with its tiny, pixelated people. Disney


endorsed the notion of virtual worlds for kids when it scooped up Club
Penguin for $350 million in August 2007. That site claims 12 million
active users. Analyst firm eMarketer predicts that by 2011, 53% of U.S.
Internet-visiting kids and teens--or about 20 million people--will go
to virtual worlds regularly.

Article Link

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Conversational marketing

The first step for brands to socialise with consumers is to start
profile pages on social networks and then accept “friend requests” from
individuals. On MySpace, brands have been doing this for a while. For
instance, Warner Bros, a Hollywood studio, had a MySpace page for
“300”, its film about Spartan warriors. It signed up some 200,000
friends, who watched trailers, talked the film up before its release,
and counted down toward its DVD release.

Facebook, from this week, also lets brands create their own pages.
Coca-Cola, for instance, has a Sprite page and a “Sprite Sips” game
that lets users play with a little animated character on their own
pages. Facebook makes this a social act by automatically informing the
player's friends, via tiny “news feed” alerts, of the fun in progress.
Thus, at least in theory, a Sprite “experience” can travel through an
entire group, just as Messrs Lazarsfeld and Katz once described in the
offline world.

In many cases, Facebook users can also treat brands' pages like
those of other friends, by adding reviews, photos or comments, say.
Each of these actions might again be communicated instantly to the news
feeds of their clique. Obviously this is a double-edged sword, since
they can just as easily criticise a brand as praise it.

Facebook even plans to monitor and use actions beyond its own site
to place them in a social context. If, for instance, a Facebook user
makes a purchase at Fandango,
a website that sells cinema tickets, this information again shows up on
the news feeds of his friends on Facebook, who might decide to come
along. If he buys a book or shirt on another site, then this implicit
recommendation pops up too.

Article Link (The Economist)

Robot Consumers, Grow Up!

Part of the problem is the Western world's relatively short history with robots.

[...] robots (or at
least automatons) have been part of the Japanese culture for hundreds
of years. They're seen as friends, helpers, entertainers, and
companions. They've always resembled their creators.

What Sony didn't anticipate, [...] was its
target market's antipathy toward home robots. The more powerful and
realistic AIBO became (the final version, the ERS-7, looked remarkably
like a plastic-covered dog), the less interest Americans showed.
American consumers fixate on anthropomorphism and generally find
androids and even android pets grotesque. You won't find a lifelike
robot receptionist in the U.S., but there are already many at work in

There's an obvious comfort level with the now five-year-old iRobot Roomba
vacuum cleaner. It doesn't look like us or any of our pets. We
understand that there is some intelligence in there, but we are not
threatened by it.

Ironically, Americans also have a fascination with
robots that look and act like real, living things. David Hanson, for
instance, often receives broad, laudatory media coverage for his
Frubber-faced Einstein robot. Now he's working on Zeno, an Astro Boy–like automaton
that will have a Frubber face and offer real social interaction.
Release is a year or more away, and who knows how much the company will
have to charge. I worry about the product's viability in this

American robot consumers have yet to comprehend
the cost of the programming and mechanical complexity necessary to
create effective, realistic, interactive robots.

Hasbro, however, may have found the formula for
success in the U.S. The company has been building functionally limited,
successful FurReal friends for years [...].
The products have canned interactions, never learn, and usually cost
less than $70. They also look quite realistic. The lower price point
seems to help parents overcome their hesitation, and they usually wind
up bringing home a Hasbro robotic pet for the holidays.

$149 Robopanda,
is its most sophisticated offering and could prove the least successful
in the U.S. Again, it straddles the line between engagement and

erhaps Americans' inability to accept complex
robotics has something to do with our tendency to generate emotional
attachments to inanimate objects. We shower our cars, homes, and boats
with the affection we should be directing to, say, our children. Add
just a touch of intelligence and interaction and our engagement
increases exponentially.

Of course, the challenge is on both American
consumers who can't handle the idea of anthropomorphic robotics and the
engineers who spend their lives inside university laboratories and have
no idea how consumers will respond to their life's work.

The consumer robotics market is not going to
explode. American consumers simply aren't mature enough. Instead, the
future of robotics will, for the next decade or so, be a story of
embedded technologies.

Article Link (PCMag)

Millions of toys recalled; contain 'date rape' drug

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Millions of Chinese-made toys have been pulled
from shelves in North America and Australia after scientists found they
contain a chemical that converts into a powerful date rape drug when
ingested. Two children in the U.S. and three in Australia were
hospitalized after swallowing the beads.

With only seven weeks
until Christmas, the recall is yet another blow to the toy industry --
already bruised by a slew of recalls this past summer.

the United States, the toy goes by the name Aqua Dots, a highly popular
holiday toy distributed by Toronto-based Spin Master Toys. They are
called Bindeez in Australia, where they were named toy of the year at
an industry function earlier this year.

It could not immediately
be learned whether Aqua Dots beads are made in the same factories as
the Bindeez product. Both are sold by Australia-based Moose Enterprises.

toy beads are sold in general merchandise stores and over the Internet
for use in arts and crafts projects. They can be arranged into designs
and fused together when sprayed with water.

Scientists say a
chemical coating on the beads, when ingested, metabolizes into the
so-called date rape drug gamma hydroxy butyrate. When eaten, the
compound -- made from common and easily available ingredients -- can
induce unconsciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma and death.

Gunja from Australia's Poisons Information Center said the drug's
effect on children was "quite serious ... and potentially

The recall was announced by the Consumer
Product Safety Commission on Wednesday several hours after published
reports about the recall in Australia.

The two U.S. children who
swallowed Aqua Dot beads went into nonresponsive comas, commission
spokesman Scott Wolfson said Wednesday afternoon.

In Australia,
the toys were ordered off store shelves on Tuesday when officials
learned that a 2-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl were hospitalized
after swallowing the beads. A 19-month-old toddler also was being

The news jolted the toy industry because Aqua Dots has
been one of the few bright stars of the toy selling season, which,
along with overall retailing, has gotten off to a sluggish start. The
item, which had been heavily advertised, had appeared on many toy
experts' list of must-have holiday toys, and toy sellers are now in the
midst of canceling advertising and scrambling to figure out how to
replace it.

Chris Byrne, a New York-based toy consultant, noted
that the incidents could have been isolated, and Spin Master may be
erring on the side of caution.

"This is something that they could not have foreseen. This is an extremely hot toy. ... It's a little scary," Byrne said.

Article Link

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

i-SOBOT debuts without TV spots

Toddler-toy maker Tomy takes a stab at online marketing
tactics to introduce its tiny toy robot.


The Orange County Register
Comments 0| Recommend

With no plans to spend a penny on TV commercials, Santa
Ana's Tomy Corp. is betting its new i-SOBOT will capture the hearts and
wallets of Americans and become one of the hottest toys this holiday.

The $300 robot, being unveiled today, has gained a following
thanks to a strategic Internet campaign. Tomy's marketing gurus targeted blogs
and Web sites. Popular gadget sites, such as Engadget and Gizmodo, have been
keeping tabs on its progress all year. I-SOBOT even has a MySpace page with 161

But it's not just the geek community that's curious. The
6.5-inch, bipedal mechanical creature attracted retail attention as well.
Neiman Marcus won the rights to sell i-SOBOT exclusively in September
before other retailers. Other stores, including Amazon and eToys,
began taking pre-orders last month and have since asked Tomy for more after
selling out of initial allotments. Sharper Image stores are featuring it
as one of its top tech toys.

Not bad for a company that previously made only toys for

"Tomy's always been known as a preschool toy company, but
we've been expanding into electronics," said Sandra Leo, Tomy's senior marketing
manager. "We really had to look at the best way to market (i-SOBOT). We wanted
to do more untraditional marketing, like blogs, MySpace and robot

Even at the official news conference this afternoon, Tomy is
testing a new tactic. It's inviting consumers not only to listen to the Webcast
but ask questions at If the campaign works, it will save
Tomy a lot of money.

"Usually, traditional marketing with TV can be a couple of
million of dollars depending on the campaign," Leo said. "Based on the
nontraditional marketing approach TOMY is taking by reaching consumers through
limited print, online, word of mouth, and the news conference, TOMY will spend
approximately between $200,000 to $400,000 – much less than traditional
marketing with TV."

Japanese parent Tomy Co. Ltd. spent two years
developing i-SOBOT. An American version was tweaked for the U.S. consumer. Leo
said the local office gave it a sense of humor. i-SOBOT will crack jokes, tell
you that you smell funny, act drunk and imitate Dirty Harry's infamous line "Go
ahead, make my day."

American consumers are getting their hands on i-SOBOT before
the Japanese. Tomy's local office wanted the robot in time for Christmas.
Retailers in Japan don't depend on the holiday season as much as U.S. retailers.
So the Omnibot, as it's called in Japan, will hit stores there a month

Tomy didn't have to do too much marketing. The buzz about
i-SOBOT is that it's a bipedal robot that comes pre-assembled and ready to play
with. And it doesn't cost thousands of dollars.

The diminutive i-SOBOT is packed with technology: 17
custom-developed servo motors, 19 integrated circuit chips, a gyro-sensor, two
LEDs and software. It sings, dances, does somersaults and karate chops, plays
air guitar and balances on one leg. Using an infrared remote control, users can
tell the i-SOBOT what to do by typing in up to 200 preprogrammed

"We're not calling it a toy. It's more of an electronics
gadget," Leo said.

Robots have long amused hobbyists and the tech crowd. But
they usually had to be built by the user and could cost thousands of dollars,
like the late Sony Aibo dog robot, which retailed for $1,500. On the other
extreme, toy robots were merely play things with blinking lights and limited

A new breed of robots, such as WowWee's Robosapien,
has sprung up in recent years. They have bumped up the technology of toy robots
and are priced in the more affordable hundred-dollar range.

While that's higher than the typical toy, price doesn't
always matter, said Anita Frazier, an analyst who tracks toys and video games
for market researcher NPD Group.

"The price points for these items are higher – but that
hasn't stood in the way of their success. While toy companies traditionally have
shied away from higher price points, in recent years it has been proven that if
a toy is innovative enough and interesting enough to kids then it can succeed no
matter what the price," Frazier said.

These "interactive robotic playmates," as Fraiser calls
them, are just a smidgen of the $22 billion toy industry. But their sales record
makes them one of the fastest-growing toy categories. Last year, sales reached
$262 million, up 43 percent from the prior year's $183 million, according to

"The numbers tell the story. This category has been hot in
recent years. It's a small category but it's been growing like gangbusters," she

Whether consumers will bite on the $300-plus price tag
remains to be seen.

Sharper Image, known for showcasing robots and other tech
toys, told Tomy that i-SOBOT is probably priced too low. The retailer's other
new robots this year include the $350 Pleo baby dinosaur from Ugobe, the
$120 R2-D2 droid from Star Wars and WowWee's singing Robopanda Interactive Robot
for $150.

Sales have pleased Neiman Marcus, said Ginger Reeder,
spokeswoman for the department store. i-SOBOT has been available for sale only
at Nieman's, known for carrying hundreds of exclusive products at any given

"It's a great product and that's what we look for. And we
thought it would be a fun gift," Reeder said. "The bottom line is we look for
the best."

If pre-orders mean anything, Tomy is hopeful. Retailers who
have been taking pre-orders have sold out and asked Tomy for more.

"The initial shipment to the U.S. is 15,000 units, but
production has been ramped up due to overwhelming demand and an additional
135,000 units should arrive prior to year-end," Leo said.

Sharper Image is pretty confident the robots will

"Robots and tech toys rule this season," said Cori Zywotow
Rice, Sharper Image spokeswoman. "It's predominantly driven by the consumer
whose desire is to interact with products that will allow them to escape,
fantasize and have fun. It's interesting. Fuzzy slippers and plush toys that
don't have sound chips and sensors have really become wants of the

Article Link

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QRIO befriended by toddlers in study

Remember that study
which placed a bubbly QRIO in the middle of rambunctious 18- to
24-month old kids in order to better analyze human-robot interactions?
We know, it's probably coming back ever so slowly, but regardless, the
findings of the five month trial have finally been published, and the
results are less than shocking. Essentially, researchers noticed that
children learned to treat the QRIO as if it were another human; the
Earthlings eventually felt comfortable touching its hands, covering it
with a blanket when it laid down and helping it back up if it toppled
over. Notably, kiddos even went so far as to shun the poor bot when it
was programmed to dance nonstop, but they forgave the bizarre antics
and continued to play nice once the jig was up. The crew involved with
the research is now focusing on the development of autonomous bots for
the toddler classroom, and while much more testing will likely be done
before any conclusions are definitively drawn, results from this go
'round sure hinted at just how susceptible we are to robotic takeover, er, playing nice with harmless androids. Oh, and be sure and check the video after the break!

Article Link

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

UGOBE's Pleo enters production, software updates already promised

With just weeks to go until Americans everywhere lose their minds in
the holiday shopping rush, UGOBE is announcing that its long (long) awaited Pleo is finally hitting the production line. Furthermore, the company insists that those who pre-ordered the dinobot directly from UGOBE will receive a 30-day shipment notification "before Thanksgiving," and those who placed their order with "any US retailer" will have their new
toy before December 25th. In case that's not enough to win back your heart,
you can also look forward to a revamped website next month that will
allow owners to download a "surprise mode" for their creature. Speaking
of downloads, those wondering if this thing really will be able to
"learn and develop a unique personality based on how it is raised" can
anticipate "free software updates" aimed at enabling that feature (and possibly others) sometime next year.
Article Link (Engadget)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Robot Love

David Levy, artificial intelligence
researcher at the University of Maastricht, Netherlands, told

recently that by 2050 Massachusetts would
become the first jurisdiction to legalize robot weddings.
Observes Levy, “At first, sex with robots might be considered
geeky, but once you have a story like ‘I had sex with a robot,
and it was great!’ appear someplace like Cosmo magazine, I’d
expect many people to jump on the bandwagon.”

Robots are set to become a big market. In
2005, the South Korean government

the country would have the world’s third largest
robotics industry by 2013, exporting some $20 billion worth of
products, or 15% of the global robotics market. If their
forecast proves correct, this suggests a worldwide robotics
industry of about $135 billion in just five years.

That’s mega growth. This may explain why
such formidable players as Honda and Toyota have established
robotics development divisions. Toyota’s trumpet-playing robot
shown back in 2004
, but besides a robotic corporate tour

, little news has been heard from Toyota.

Honda’s ASIMO robot
, which stands for Advanced Step in
Innovative Mobility, and which has been in development for 21
years, is currently on tour in Australia and is featured in a
Honda corporate image campaign currently airing on U.S.

This past December, the British Government
released a report that predicted that

robots could one day demand legal rights
. If David Levy’s
prediction that we can bed and wed robots by 2050 proves true,
then contracts and rights will not be far behind.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

European Virtual World

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Pay Up, Kid, or Your Igloo Melts

LIKE many 10-year-olds, Laila Rodriquez adores stuffed animals, but
when she asked her parents for a particular stuffed cow, cat, duck and
dog she had an ulterior motive — the toys come with an access code to
an online game that allows her to take care of virtual “pets” (one for
each stuffed toy), to cook for them and to furnish their rooms.

“I’d like to have 10 pets, because once you get 10 you can get an
exclusive bed,” Laila explained while playing the game, Webkinz, at
home here one afternoon after school last week.

The “exclusive
bed” is as pixelated as the pets, but at least Laila’s parents have
four real stuffed toys to show for the $60 they spent on the game.
Laila also just discovered another Web site,, which charges $20 for an “angelic potion” and other “virtual thingies,” as Laila put it.

Her 7-year-old brother, Jared, wants to be a paid member of Club,
the popular Web site for children. That would cost his parents $5.95 a
month and enable him to amass virtual knickknacks for his virtual
penguin and the virtual igloo it lives in.

But Jared’s and
Laila’s father, Hubert Rodriquez, 43, has ruled out buying toys he
can’t touch. “You pay real money to get virtual use,” he said. “There
doesn’t seem to be any value in that.”

Article Link

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

U.B. Funkeys

Webkinz competitor Plus: In the wake of the Webkinz phenomenon, everyone’s trying to
introduce their own version of the real-to-virtual world tween product.
One that is finding success is Mattel’s U.B. Funkeys.
A slightly more sophisticated take on the plush critters that inspired
them, Funkeys are vinyl figures that also have online identities in a
virtual world called Terrapinia.

Eliminating the problem of people stealing the codes off Webkinz toys
in stores, Funkeys must be plugged into a USB docking station, which in
turn makes the character’s avatar instantly recognized in Terrapinia.
There are 40 different Funkeys, each falling into one of three types
-“normal”, “rare”, and “very rare”- with the more “rare” models having
greater capabilities within Terrapinia. Just as with Webkinz, Funkeys
owners can use their avatars to play games to earn points to buy
virtual merchandise. We hear that parents are also enjoying the inside
joke storylines, making Terrapinia the virtual world equivalent of a
family friendly CGI movie.


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US Mobile Monthly Consumption of Content and Applications

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Playhut opens kids' virtual world

More toy makers are joining the virtual worlds' fray. Playhut, a toy
company known for making physical play structures like inflatable fire
engines or playhouses for kids, is trying its hand at online virtual worlds for the 6 years and older set.

On Tuesday, the company said it launched two online worlds--one for
boys and one for girls--under the brand Kraze. The free
sites enable members play games, dress up virtual characters and chat
with friends--once parents send a permission slip via e-mail to the

Playhut has stiff competition
online, however. Rival toy brands Mattel and Hasbro run online game
sites for kids that are among the top 15 most-visited among children,
according to research firm ComScore. Mattel's Barbie brand also
recently opened a new virtual world for girls that is pegged to a line
of MP3 player dress-up dolls.

Article Link

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Nokia 800 Robot Dog

This is what happens when a forward-thinking cellphone giant gets
together with a bunch of its future potential customers — a robot
dog made from an N800. The children at a Nokia-funded school in Finland
came up with this idea of having an internet tablet that doubles as a
Article Link (Gizmodo)

Virtual worlds threaten 'values'

In his speech Lord Puttnam voiced fears about the many
game worlds that have sprung up which tie access to the virtual world
to the purchase of a toy.

Webkinz, Funkeys, BarbieGirls, TyGirlz and many others are all virtual worlds created and run by toy makers.

"Are we absolutely sure that this is the very best we
can offer young people?" he asked. "Do we really want them to think of
themselves as not much more than consumers?"

He said: "Might we not prefer to build worlds that
encourage those same values and skills we wish them to exercise in the
real world?"

"The challenge ahead is this - to ensure that virtual
worlds are increasingly places that offer real meaning to their lives
and in the real world to learn from the sense of community and
collaboration that's been experienced in virtual worlds," he said.

Matthias Mikshe, founder and head of Stardoll, said many
firms were developing virtual worlds for children because young people
were far more familiar with them than their parents.

Specifically answering Lord Puttnam's point Mark Hansen,
director of business development for Lego Universe, said children were
very good at determining the underlying ethic of a virtual world.

"Is it positioned to sell more product or as an extended
experience with the product they have already bought?" he asked. "Kids
are very smart and will spot that really quickly."
Article Link (BBC)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Next-Gen Tomy Heli-Q RC Helicopter Takes to the Skies Next Month

japanese toy giant Tomy says it's about to roll out the next generation
in tiny copters, and it's calling this one the Heli-Q. The company says
this is the world's smallest radio controlled toy helicopter, but other
than its smaller size, its specs seem similar to those of Picco-Z
Styrofoam helicopters we've flown before.
The Picco-Z took a 20-minute charge of its battery to give us an
eight-minute flight, but Tomy conservatively says this Heli-Q will fly
for five minutes on each charge.

Article Link

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Virtual Toys Coming for Holidays


This holiday season, expect to be bombarbed by a slew of toys interacting with the Web.

avalanche comes as the nation's toy companies try to mimic the enormous
popularity of Ganz's Webkinz, plush pets that come alive online with a
secret password, and follow children to where they're going - online.

Hasbro Inc.


the nation's second largest toy maker, is the latest with its launch of
a virtual spinoff of the popular line of Littlest Pet Shop collectible
miniature pets. The initial line includes a series of five plush toys -
a dog, cat, turtle, penguin and panda.

Once kids are online, they
can "officially" adopt their pet and play games to rack up "kibble
points," which can be spent to buy outfits and snacks for the digital
version of their pet, or decorations for their pets' virtual houses.

launch the new collection, which will initially only be available in
New York and on Hasbro's Web site, the Pawtucket-based company has
opened a temporary store on New York City's Fifth Avenue.

Hasbro says it will release 18 more VIPs in the spring, when it releases the toy line globally.

Article Link

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PLEO(TM) Life Form by Ugobe(R) will be part of a hot "tech toy" lineup at The Sharper Image this holiday season.

In stock now is oodles of wow at The Sharper Image (NASDAQ:SHRP),
the headquarters for this seasons hottest
trends in toys and technology. Thats
because the retailer is expecting a tech and toy season predominantly
driven by consumers desire to interact with
products that allow them to escape, fantasize and have fun. Fuzzy
slippers and plush toys that dont have sound
chips or sensors have become wants of the past and have been replaced by
coveted items like PLEO the Camarasaurus
and a vast array of robotics, electronics and high tech dazzlers.

We pre-shopped the marketplace and have
brought to consumers some of the hottest tech products that capture
imaginations and entertainment hours. When it comes to holiday gifting
consumers are looking for the WOW factor that they have come to expect
through technology, stated Drew Reich,
Executive Vice President of Merchandising for The Sharper Image. The
hottest gift categories for this holiday season will be tech toys and
robotics with sophisticated sensory systems and cameras that can beam
pictures to computers and cell phones.

The toy of the season, PLEO Life Form by
begins life as a newly-hatched baby Camarasaurus
that moves organically, expresses emotion, explores autonomously and
responds to the world around him. As PLEO grows
up, he develops his own unique personality shaped by his interactions
with its owner. A sophisticated sensory system includes a color camera;
sound, touch and motion sensors; and 14 finely tuned motors with over
100 gears.

Other interactive robots include the Robopanda®
Interactive Robot ($149.95),
an animated singing, story-telling
robotic companion ideal for young children and robot collectors that
performs more than 40 lifelike movements. Star Wars®"
fanatics will want the R2-D2 Interactive
Astromech Droid ($119.95),
which is
voice activated and recognizes 30 phrases, responds to commands, and
plays games while serving as a dedicated helper and loyal friend. He
navigates with sonar and infrared sensors.

Robots bring out the child in all of us and
captivate and fascinate consumers of all ages,
added Reich. While we have a robust
inventory, indications are that these are the hottest gifts of the year
and we urge consumers to preorder through our website.

Other hot to have and cool to give
toys and products include:

Article Link

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The battle is on for young Bakugan fans

October 19, 2007 - Thousands of children will
converge on the Square One Wal-Mart tommorow in hopes of getting their
hands on a super-popular toy.
will be after Bakugan, a card-based game that lets children battle each
other as fictional characters. It's geared towards boys age six to 11
and is currently one of the fastest selling toys in the world. It was
created by Spinmaster.
"It's sold out in most of Canada," said
public relations spokesperson Dale Gago. "They (stores) can't even keep
the toy on the shelf for more then a week."
The game has also been spun-off into an animated TV series.
Wal-Mart will stock the shelves with thousands of games. The price will
vary from $5-$20, depending on how many cards and how much game
equipment you want.
Spinmaster will also have game demonstrators outside the store, playing the game and giving out free cards and game figures.
Children can enter a 3 p.m. draw. The winner will be literally drawn into the animated TV show.

Article Link

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Are kids ready for ads in virtual worlds?

Some [virtual worlds] boasted of successful experiments with
marketing. For example, preteens are driving virtual Toyota Scions on
sites such as and Gaia Online, and they're wearing the
latest digital fashions from DKNY at Nickelodeon also talked about coming plans to run "immersive" ads in its 3D environment for kids ages 7 to 14.

roduct companies creating branded content to appeal to kids is as
old as the first days of television. But Montgomery and others say
virtual worlds and related games change the equation for brand
marketers because a child's interaction and emotional engagement is so

"This is a very powerful medium for marketing because it involves
this huge engagement. It's more powerful than a sugar cereal
commercial," said Bob Bowers, CEO of Numedeon, whose Whyville members spend about
three and a half hours a month on the virtual world. He added: "Therefore there need to be standards."

So far, the only regulations protecting kids online are through the
Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998. The
legislation stipulates that sites targeting children under the age of
13 must post a detailed privacy policy and obtain permission from
parents to collect any personal information about them. COPPA doesn't
deal directly with advertising.

Research firm Parks Associates expects that advertisers will spend $150
million in virtual worlds by 2012, up 10 times the spending in 2006.
Though still a relatively small amount, it excludes marketers spending
on their own virtual worlds, like

Companies that have experimented with advertising in virtual worlds
include Disney, Capitol Music Group, Kellogg's, Pepsi, Toyota and
Warner Bros. In one example of such campaigns, pay-as-you-go mobile
phone company Kajeet opened up a "chat factory" in Whyville this spring
that allowed tweens to personalize their chat bubbles by color and

Club Penguin has attracted as many as 4.7 million users in
September, up 147 percent from a year ago, and it is expected to mark
$35 million in earnings--before interest and taxes--from subscriptions
this year. Disney bought Club Penguin for $350 million in August.

Nickelodeon launched its kid virtual world Nicktropolis in January, and
10 months later, the site has nearly 5.5 million users who spend an
average of 55 minutes per visit.

But Whyville's Bowers said at the conference that kids are more
sophisticated about marketing than people suspect. "You just need to do
it in a different way," Bowers said. "It has to be something they will
contribute to and own, and not to broadcast to them."
Article Link (

The Gogic Racer: a Transformer in disguise

Check it BumbleBee, Gogic Five
just got himself a Racer extension kit allowing him to auto-maniacally
transform from a walking, talking menace to a four-on-the-floor racer.
A plodder really, with acceleration more akin to John Deere than
Ferrari. Still, a robot that can stomp out your sentient juices and
then back over you to finish the job is worthy of our attention. The
racer add-on is available in Japan for ¥8,400 or about $72 --
that's about $300 for the entire kit.
Article Link (Engadget)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Disney walks line with digital kids, parents

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Can a legacy
company known for polished storytelling stay relevant to a generation
of kids growing used to telling their own stories?

That's the tough question for Paul Yanover, executive vice president
and managing director of Disney Online, which runs and the
newly acquired virtual world Club Penguin. Yanover spoke here Wednesday
at the Virtual Worlds conference and admitted that growing Disney's
Internet properties is a work in progress. After all, one of the
world's most popular brands for children ended up buying newcomer
virtual world Club Penguin for $350 million this summer.

"It's a new space for us to figure out," Yanover said.

On the Internet, the company is focused on three things: fun, safety
and integrity, Yanover said. That means that Disney's sites must be
engaging and safe for kids, but they also must hold to an established
story line consistent with the company's brand and delivering on
parents' expectations. For example, Yanover joked that he'd have a hard
time putting up a digital billboard in Disney's upcoming Pirates of the Carribean virtual world.

That's why Disney Online veers toward structured environments built
around a story or game, and the company will continue on that path, he
said. But down the road it plans to explore offerings that give kids
more control over their experience. It's already dabbled in that area.
In January, Disney Online allowed kids to create their own fairy, and
run a Web site around the animation. Three million kids participated.

Still, a parent in the audience asked that Disney offer tools to kid
members of Club Penguin so that they could build things in the virtual
world. Yanover said he liked the idea, but hinted later that it might
take some time to bring in that functionality.

"We're a polished content company. But we're moving down the spectrum of participation and user-created additions," he said.

Article Link

Friday, October 12, 2007

RoboPhilo: A Humanoid Robot for Less Than $500


Designed for the entry level enthusiast, the RoboPhilo packs the
functionality of more complex and expensive robots into a much more
affordable package. He comes complete with 20 servos that control the
head, waist, thighs, and joints along with a controller with 24 servo
channels and up to an 8 I/O interface. You can even hook him up to your
PC and program him to execute your personalized movements.
Article Link (Gizmodo)

New Tachikoma spider robot on the loose

Ghost in the Shell fans, unite. Your favorite killer spider
is back once more, as Bandai is delivering a newfangled version which
stands 9.5-centimeters high and connects to your PC via USB.
Apparently, this creature comes bundled with software which enables it
to play back voice messages and fire up mini-games when it's not
emitting sounds through the built-in speaker or catching your eye with
its integrated LEDs. Unfortunately, it looks like this creature won't
actually be uncaged until next February, but that'll give you some time
to save up the ¥13,440 ($115) that you'll need come launch day.
Article Link (Engadget)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Universal avatars

Second Life screenshot, Linden Lab
A virtual character, or avatar, for all the virtual
worlds in which people play is the goal of a joint project between IBM
and Linden Lab.

The computer giant and the creator of Second Life are working on universal avatars that can travel between worlds.

The project aims to open up virtual worlds by introducing open tools that work with any online environment.

The project started by IBM and Linden Lab aims to create
a universal character creation system so people only have to create a
digital double once.

While the character's appearance may change depending on
where it is taken, its basic characteristics, such as looks and
underlying personal data, would be retained.

Initially the partners will concentrate on creating a system that lets people move between worlds.

Later will come the universal character creation system that lets people create a single avatar to venture into online worlds.

The partnership was announced prior to the start of the
Virtual Worlds conference taking place in San Jose, California, from
10-11 October.

Virtual worlds are rapidly becoming hugely popular. When
the first Virtual Worlds conference took place in early 2006 only nine
such cyberspaces were widely known. In 2007 more than 30 will be on
show at the Virtual Worlds meeting.
Article Link (BBC)

Conceptual YABO robot longs to be your friend

C'mon, who couldn't adore someone, er, something with a face like that?
Pictured to the right is YABO, a conceptual robot that was apparently
designed for "lonely, unmarried persons." If brought to reality, it
would sport a myriad sensors including one for hearing, feeling and
infrared, while also featuring a built-in camera, internal speaker,
wheels and an LCD display. YABO can communicate with its (presumably
single) owner by rotating and changing the color of its face, or it can
just snap back responses if it's feeling talkative. Moreover, the bot
could reportedly disable unused devices and adjust the temperature to
save energy while you're out trying to find an actual human to love.
Article Link (Engadget)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Tomy’s i-SOBOT: The World’s Smallest Bot

And in the world of hobby bipedal humanoid robots: introducing the i-SOBOT, “the world’s smallest fully functional bot,” according to producer Tomy. The robot, at 6.49 inches tall and 350g, may look puny - but equipped with 17 servo motors throughout the body as well as a gyro sensor, the i-SOBOT can perform an impressive range of movements as well as speak and dance (but please, don’t ask him to do the robot).

The tiny bot is controlled via voice and remote control and can also serve as an interactive music player, responding to applause and other user commands. But what really caught our attention was i-SOBOT’s ability to do what we’d been waiting for: the mini-bot produces its own punching and kicking sound effects, meaning entertaining bot-on-bot combat is only a few tinkerings away. (They can even get in shape pre-battle - they’re programmed to do push-ups and move from sitting to standing without assistance.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Optimal's Purchase Strategy

Group's plan for the company includes efforts to expand its sales and
distribution by widening its sales channels, particularly outside of
North America and in emerging markets; expanding its product design,
development and product capabilities to offer an increased product
assortment as varying price points; adding products that combine
"computer connectivity, utility and entertainment; embarking on branded
entertainment initiatives; and seeking out potential acquisition

Branding in Tween Worlds

Kids are consumers (virtually)! That was the message on the “New School” panel at the YPulse Tween Mashup on Friday. Speakers from Stardoll, WhyVille, and Cartoon Doll Emporium all recounted that young users of their virtual worlds wanted brands brought into their online environments.


Mattias Mikshe, CEO of Stardoll, said that users were begging for real
world brands (“everything from Gap to Gucci.”) This is what led them to
create “StarPlaza,” an in-world mall stocked with virtual brands (they
now have 9). LVMH-owned Sephora and DKNY just became the first real
world brand to set up shop there (featuring the same items as the
stores). Cartoon Doll Emporium, a similar “paper doll” site, is also
working with offline brands.

virtual world meets social network WhyVille has 3,000 different lines
of clothing—by 3,000 different girls. CEO Jim Bower says they want to
have a Whyville store with the designs from 12 year olds. But kids in
WhyVille aren’t immune to brand fever: one group of kids actually
created M&Ms costumes for their avatars. Over in WeeWorld,
users “consistently asking for brands to better express themselves,”
says Marketing and Editorial Director, Maura Welch. “By choosing to
wear the assets,” she says “the users are endorsing the brands to their
friends.” According to the site’s latest food and drink survey, users’
WeeMees (avatars) were jonesing for some Sprite, Gatorade and Cheerios.
As it is, they can already pimp themselves out in Armani sunglasses
while they pop Skittles.

According to Mikshe, the kids can “distinguish between being
marketed to and adding value.” Or maybe the marketing has just done its
job. The demand is there for the brand names, creating a pull rather
than a push scenario. And now that these brands can provide utility
online, they are becoming more and more integrated into the lives of
young consumers.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Barbie Girls too much like 'Mean Girls?'

NEW YORK--Who's running things over at Mattel?

The Barbie Girls MP3 player that doubles as a paper doll with plastic clothes is now out.

First, I don't think parents should pay $59.99 for an MP3 player
with 512MB of storage, even if you can dress it up. For that price I'd
recommend spending a little more and getting their child the "big kid"
iPod Nano or Shuffle you know they really want. To be fair, the device
can hold a microSD card of up to 2GB.

But that's not my real problem with this tech toy.

Plugging the MP3 player into a computer grants the owner entry into new places in the virtual world that non-buyers of the device won't have access to. It also gives you access to "exclusive" virtual purses and pets.


While I understand Mattel's desire to offer some sort of reward for buying the device, the concept of creating a virtual velvet rope seems destructive to the Barbie image the company has been struggling to improve.

"It's the next-generation fashion doll. We've always evolved with
how girls play. It's all about music, being online and fashion," Lauren
Dougherty, director of PR/Communications for Mattel Brands, told CNET from the floor of DigitalLife 2007.

If Mattel is serious about reinventing Barbie's image and keeping up with the Webkinz of the world, maybe it should think about the overall picture.

As this writer was once a little girl who drooled over the outfits
created for Barbie by some of the coolest fashion designers, I'm not
anti-Barbie in the least. I just wish she was a little more Brenda
Starr and a little less Paris Hilton. This is 2007, right?

Of course, this is the same company that in 1992 thought it was a
good idea to make "Math class is tough" one of the lines for its Teen
Talk Barbie.

We all know how well that went over.

Article Link

iRobot and the Frankenstein Complex

will American’s learn to stop worrying and love robots? That
question must be echoing inside consumer robotics company iRobot (IRBT).

The Burlington, Mass., company went public nearly two years ago and
its share price has spent much of last year below the $24 offering
price. Revenue from consumer products –60% of iRobot’s
revenue last year – fell 1% in the first half of 2007 from a year

Some of that decline was tied to waning appeal of iRobot’s
flagship consumer product, the Roomba vacuum. But iRobot had some new
products up its sleeve, and it announced them
last week: a robot to clean out rain gutters, and a mobile robot that
can send images of kids, pets or the infirm to remote PCs. The
response? iRobot’s stock was down as much as 3.2% Friday, hardly
a standing ovation.

Much of the press also seemed
indifferent, if not disappointed, reflecting a very cautious attitude
in the U.S. for robots in general: “Weird New iRobots
Unleashed” (PC World); “Robot Invasion Escalates” (Washington Post); “iRobot’s New Products Could End Up Lonely and Unloved” (

Where’s the robot love? In Asia, apparently - and in Japan, particularly. But in the U.S. there’s a robot dread running like an undercurrent beneath our robot fascination. Isaac Asimov called this robot-phobia “the Frankenstein complex”, and it is deeply ingrained in American and European culture. Take a look at this list of the 50 best movie robots: From Hal to T-2 to the Fembots, we Westerners applaud evil robots and their fourth-reel destruction.

Neena Buck, a robotics analyst quoted in the AP’s coverage, noted a sharp difference in robot comfort between East Asia and the West.

“In the U.S., we want our robots to be utilitarian,
and act as helpers to us,” Buck said. “In Japan and Korea,
they think of robots as friends and pets, and as additions to their
families.” But as prices come down, “I think Americans will
be willing to experiment with cute-ish robots that do something like
bring a family together.”

The culture gap is evident in this video
of Asimo, Honda’s humanoid robot, breaking into a trot. The
children and adults in the audience seem delighted, but my puerile
American mind felt more ambivalent: I felt both impressed by the
achievement and amused by a robot running like someone who is, shall we
say, desperate to defecate. I also found iRobot’s photos of perfectly behaved children observed by the ConnectR creepy in a way I can’t describe.

And yet, I like the idea of affordable household robots that iRobot
pioneered. iRobot built the Roomba like Apple (AAPL) built the early
Macintosh: Both created from scratch an original platform that others
can create applications for. Both made a machine simple to operate and
easy for middle-class consumers to afford. And both popularized a
fledgling industry that had massive potential over coming decades.

But household robots face an obstacle that personal computers didn’t: the Frankenstein complex.

Not only are we revolted by robots that are overly humanoid, we are
also cold to robots that are overly utilitarian. We don’t want
robots to be too much like us, but we are bored if they aren’t as
fancy as the ones we’ve seen in movies.

I still think household robots could be a huge market down the road,
and that iRobot could be a big player in it, but it will take decades.
In the meantime, a lot depends on how companies like iRobot manage our
contradictory feelings about robots.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

BEAM Bot Says Send Your Loved Ones A Bouquet of Robots

The BEAM Bot Club is offering a gift service that will provide the recipient with a new DIY BEAM Bot, once a month, for four months. The robots are part of the Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics, Mechanics (BEAM) range and are composed of basic analog circuits. The subscription cost $170 and includes solar and battery powered critters, among others.

Article Link (Engadget)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Donna Karan, Sephora to sell in Stardoll Web world

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Young girls waiting to grow into full-time
fashionistas will get a chance to experiment with couture as designer
Donna Karan and cosmetics chain Sephora open shop in the virtual
play-dress world of Stardoll.

Donna Karan's DKNY label and
Sephora, both owned by French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, will
begin on Wednesday to offer virtual clothing and makeup to Stardoll
members in specially designated online stores.

Stardoll's rapidly
growing Web site has a large audience of teen girls who create Internet
personas of themselves and spend hours dressing them up in fantasy
costumes and socializing.

For Stardoll, however, the entry of two global brands could mark the
start of a new advertising business on the site, which has grown to 6
million unique monthly visitors since being created in 2004. Until now,
members could choose from eight fictional clothing labels created by
the company's in-house designers.

Stardoll is also in talks with advertisers beyond the fashion and
cosmetics industries who are also keen on reaching a concentrated
audience of preteen and teenage girls.

"Our business model is
selling virtual items for real money ... we have 26 different exchange
rates," Miksche said. But if the site's virtual stores take off,
creating links to real clothing purchases may not be far behind, he

While DKNY fashions are pricier in real life, dressing up
an Internet alter-ego also costs real money. Members pay $1 in U.S.
currency for 10 "star dollars" to spend on the site, and a virtual DKNY
outfit of cargo pants, sequined tank top and pair of booties would cost
31 star dollars.

Stardoll is backed by venture capital firms Sequoia Capital and Index Ventures.

Article Link

Optimal Group pays US$65M for Robo toymaker WowWee of Hong Kong

MONTREAL - Optimal Group Inc. (NASDAQ:OPMR) is getting into toymaking,
paying US$65 million in cash and stock for WowWee Ltd., a privately
held Hong Kong developer of robot toys.

Optimal Group - which began as a developer of retail self-checkout
systems and in 2004 sold that operation to enter online payment
processing, a businesses it is now considering selling - said Thursday
it will pay US$55 million in cash for WowWee, with the other $10
million in shares.

Optimal Group, headquartered in Montreal and listed on the U.S. Nasdaq
market, said WowWee had 2006 revenue of US$117 million, down from $131
million in 2005, with $5 million in earnings before interest, taxes,
depreciation and amortization, down from $27.5 million.

Its products include Robosapien, Roboraptor, Roboreptile, Robopet
and Robopanda, as well as a recently introduced the radio-controlled
Flytech Dragonfly.

Optimal Group said WowWee's management will remain in place.

WowWee, with 65 per cent of its sales in North America, "has
demonstrated the ability to be at the forefront of consumer trends with
emphasis placed on evolving consumer preferences for technology-based
electronic products," Optimal Group stated.

The company also disclosed that it "has from time to time received
expressions of interest from certain third parties interested in
acquiring the payments business and has allowed limited investigation
and review to be conducted."

The payments business stopped processing transactions from the
United States after the U.S. Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act
was passed last Oct. 13. Optimal Group has "streamlined" the business
and "has provided an initial response to a voluntary request for
information" from the U.S. Attorney's office in New York.

Optimal Group added that it "will continue to actively explore strategic acquisition opportunities.

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Optimal Group snaps up WowWee for $65 million

It looks like WowWee's
growing robot army will soon have a new boss to answer to, as
Montreal-based Optimal Group announced today that it's agreed to
purchase the robot "toy" maker for $65 million. According to The
Canadian Press, Optimal says WowWee's management will remain as it is,
and there's no word of any other changes to the company. From the looks
of it, Optimal isn't an entirely obvious fit for WowWee, with it
beginning as a developer of retail self-checkout systems in 2004 before
shifting its focus to online payment processing, a business it's now
apparently considering selling. Under this new deal, Optimal will fork
over $55 million in cash, plus $10 million in shares for WowWee, which
has reportedly seen its earnings drop to just $5 million in 2006, down
from $27.5 mil in 2005.

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Nickelodeon unveils an array of tween-centric devices

DigitalLife is all about the tweens
today, and Nickelodeon isn't about to be left out in the cold -- the
venerable network has paired up with Imation to release an array of
brightly-colored gear for the budding young geek. In addition to a line
of pretty-decent DAPs, it's a pretty broad array of stuff you'd be
mortified to own if you're not 7, including Dora / Diego and
SpongeBob-branded cameras in resolutions from VGA to 3.0 megapixels, a
Dora the Explorer portable CD player, a SpongeBob 15-inch LCD TV and
progressive-scan DVD player, and a whack-SpongeBob-to-snooze alarm
clock. The best of the bunch appears to be the $100 7-inch picture
frame, however, which has a pretty decent-looking screen. Check it all
out -- along with some hands-on shots -- in the gallery.