Friday, March 30, 2007

This $250,000 Gundam will rock your, uh, socks

What's better than a 5-inch Gundam?
Why a 5-inch Gundam slathered in platinum with diamonds for eyes, of
course. This $250,000 robot soldier is manufactured by Bandai and will
be on display next month at Baselworld, in Basel Switzerland. You know,
for the big watch and jewelry show everyone's been talking about...
sheez. Great, but we're not interested until this can be produced on a 1

Article Link

iRobot's PackBot now ready for deployment

iRobot (yes, that iRobot) is filling their first order from the US military for 100 PackBot
robots fitted with new ICx Fido explosive detectors. Already, there are
an estimated 5,000 robots of various types deployed in Iraq and
Afghanistan -- up from 150 in 2004 -- with $1.7 billion earmarked for
ground-based military robots through 2012. So just how did military
personal detect bombs in the olden days? Well, soldiers would stand
back as far as possible with a rope and drag hooks over the suspected
piles of rubble or abandoned vehicles in hopes of disarming or
detonating them. With an estimated 70% of all US causalities in Iraq
caused by road-side bombs, the $165,000 PackBot will certainly receive
a warm welcome by the boots on  Article Link

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Cisco smart bots act like rolling routers

Has this ever happened to you? You're deep behind enemy lines, about to
transmit target coordinates back to your command post for a good old
fashioned carpetbombing, and just as you're about to drop the longitude
in, your wireless network craps out! Actually, we really hope that
you've never found yourself in this position, but for those that do,
Cisco has developed a set of smart robots that tag along with their
master, constantly monitoring their connectivity and attempting to
bridge the connection in the event of drop outs. Part of the company's
"Information on the Move" initiative, the unnamed bots were revealed at
this week's Military Technologies Conference in Boston, where Cisco
told attendees that this tech -- if not the the bots themselves --
could eventually be incorporated in autonomous equipment ranging from
UAVs to Packbots.
Naturally us geeks would also be interested in these go-anywhere
communications relays, but until these bots find their way onto Newegg,
we'll have to continue our search for a human WiFi detector that will agree to be our wife.

Article Link

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Patent Issued in 6 Months!

"Perhaps you have been lying awake worrying that your software patent on bubble sort might spend too much time being "examined" or "peer reviewed". You will be pleased to know that the US Patent and Trademark Office has launched their accelerated review process. "Applicants' submissions enjoy a presumption of patentability" says the patent office. Applicants are also responsible for disclosing any prior art."

Article Link (Slashdot)

To be eligible for accelerated examination, applicants are required to
provide specific information, known as an examiner support document, so
that review of the application can be completed rapidly and accurately.
In return, the USPTO issues a final decision by the examiner within 12
months on whether their application for a patent will be granted or

Applicants have a duty to disclose to the USPTO relevant prior art of
which they are aware. However, applicants are not required to search
for prior art. Under the USPTO's accelerated examination procedure,
applicants are required to conduct a search of the prior art, to submit
all prior art that is closest to their invention, and explain what the
prior art teaches and how their invention is different.

In addition to providing and explaining any prior art references,
applicants must explicitly state how their invention is useful and must
show how the written description supports the claimed invention.

Under the accelerated examination program, the number of claims allowed
in each application is limited and time periods for responding to most
USPTO communications are shortened.

Article Link (USPTO)

Tamagotchi Mobile


Are you stuck in a 1996 timewarp? Perhaps you have kiddie issues.
Fear not, for Bandai and Playphones have gotten together and come up
with the Tamagotchi prepaid cellphone. Like all the best ideas, it is a
simple concept...

Your phone rings. Blah. When your conversation is finished, hatch
your virtual pet. Take another call. Smother your pet with love. Take
another call. See Petski there? Well, keep smothering. Make a call.
Smother away, dearie. Ring Ring! Stroke Stroke. Yadda Yadda. Stroke.
My, we are popular since we got our pastel kooky clamshell.

Pet needs to pee. But you need to talk to Glorinda and Shaznay about
that new boy in fifth grade. This conversation is not over. But your
interest in the pet is. Phone goes again. Pet is thirsty. Give a fuck.
Pet dies. Decide that your mobile is ugly. Go to Mom, pester her and
whine until she gives in, rolls her eyes and buys you an iPhone.

Article Link

Powered by ScribeFire.

OmniZero.4 bot performs rope jumping

OmniZero.4 managed to climb some steps, perform a somersault, jump some
rope and crack a couple of eggs without making a fool of himself.

Article Link
(Engadget, with impressive video)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Club Penguin address

The founders are three 20-somethings who have turned down advertising
deals and say they have rejected offers from potential investors. Its
CEO is Lane Merrifield, 28.

Club Penguin's company is New Horizon Interactive (


410-1620 Dickson Ave.

Kelowna, British Columbia V1Y9Y2


NPR audio report (choose Windows Media Player):

Time to play, money to spend

Webkinz and Club Penguin struck gold by attracting millions of kids to their online worlds and keeping them there. What makes their sites so sticky?

Ganz's and a site called Club Penguin were early entries into this market, but they've been joined this year by the giants of tween marketing: Disney (Charts) and Nickelodeon (Charts). What started as an Internet sideline for a plush-toy company is shaping up as a battle for the hearts and minds of a generation.

It's a battle that bears watching by anybody interested in making money on the Web, because once children aim their browsers at one of these virtual worlds, they tend to stay there, not just for a few minutes but for hours at a time. The sites are, in the jargon of the webmaster, extraordinarily sticky.

Imagine Beanie Babies in cyberspace and you have a pretty good picture of what Ganz is up to. The company sells its Webkinz--special-edition plush toys with names like Googles, Cheeky Monkey, and Love Puppy--for $10 to $12.50 apiece.

It's a model that can be enormously seductive. Ganz reports that toy buyers have snapped up more than 2 million Webkinz pets since April 2005 and better than 1 million users have registered online. More than $20 million in retail sales in less than 24 months is considered pretty good money in the plush-toy business. Ganz is privately held and won't disclose its profit, but to put that growth rate in perspective, it took Second Life three years to attract the first 1 million "residents" to its virtual universe.

traffic has mushroomed. Club Penguin saw 2.9 million unique visitors in January, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, up from just 705,000 in March 2006.

This is an important feature: Webkinz puts strict limits on how much time kids can spend on any activity--a "leave 'em wanting more" strategy that is one of the secrets of the site's success. Webkinz's traffic ballooned from 1.1 million unique visitors in November to 1.9 million in December. Moreover, kids spent an average of two hours and eight minutes per visit on Webkinz between April 2006 and January 2007. (YouTube, by contrast, averaged 32 minutes per visit during the same period, while Club Penguin averaged 54.)

Club Penguin and Webkinz trumpet their sites as safe, ad-free environments. Disney and Nickelodeon are more frankly commercial and--in a big shift--ad-supported. Marketing to kids is always tricky; no one wants to be seen shilling to children. And whether the kids will buy the branded content, or the products advertised, remains to be seen.

But the biggest question hovering over this whole market is what the kids will want in the future--like next week. The most carefully crafted strategies can be blown up by an overnight shift in whatever adolescents deem cool.

Just ask Crandall. She can reel off a dozen reasons she now prefers Webkinz to Club Penguin but doesn't hesitate when asked how she finds the hottest new games. It's easy, she says. She asks her friend Danielle.

Article Link

PlayPhone and Bandai America Hatch Tamagotchi-Branded Mobile Phone for Kids

Bandai's original Tamagotchi virtual pet has sold more than 40 million units worldwide, with more than 12 million in the U.S. and Canada. Not only did the original toy spur a pop culture phenomenon, but also created a new toy category and prompted countless imitations. During its peak, 15 Tamagotchi units were sold every minute in the U.S. and Canada.

Unique to the Tamagotchi prepaid mobile phone is PlayPhone's ability to convert users' prepaid airtime minutes into mobile content credits that can be used on the Web site. Kids will be able to further customize their Tamagotchi phone with popular wallpaper, ringtones and games without having to use their parent's credit card.

"The Tamagotchi phone will be the must-have accessory for every kid this summer," said Masao Ohata, vice president of Network Entertainment for Bandai America. "Instead of having two separate electronics, the Tamagotchi phone combines the classic virtual pet with what every kid already wants-a phone of their very own."
Article Link

Rough play for Guangdong's toy exports

According to Chinese Customs statistics, Guangdong's toy exports increased by a steady 5.9% over the previous year to US$4.81 billion in 2006, accounting for 68.2% of the national total. However, the outlook for this year is grim.

For a start, the EU is Guangdong's second largest export market after the US and it seems certain that the successes of last year, when the province exported toys worth US$900 million up 7.2% year-on-year accounting for 16.6% of the province's total toy exports, will fall substantially short where it comes to the EU market in 2007.

New environmental protection rules introduced by the EU are particularly expected to impact on Guangdong's toy exports. As from this year, the EU bans the sale of toys containing over 1% of phthalate and five other chemicals.

Article Link

Fuzzy Critters With High Prices Offer Lesson in New Concepts

The cuddly stuffed animals, which are in exceedingly high demand among the elementary school set, have also gained notice among Internet executives for their ability to bridge the online and offline worlds. And although no one expects others to replicate the breakaway success of Webkinz in, say, the automotive industry, analysts said there are many lessons to be learned from these plush toys.

Ganz, which introduced Webkinz in April 2005, stopped publicly commenting on sales last year as the toys approached the 1 million mark. Since then, their popularity has spiked, with stores across the nation struggling to maintain inventory and eBay sellers demanding a steep premium for certain animals, like Sherbet the rabbit, which sold last week for about $40. Some discontinued Webkinz have been sold on eBay for well over $100, and an eBay auction for a dog and cat set that closed yesterday attracted a winning bid of $1,525.

Article Link

Monday, March 26, 2007

Fire-breathing Scorpion Looks Cool, Lacks Brains

There's no doubt this is one intimidating robot. It kinda reminds me of those killer spider bots in that old Gene Simmons movie Runaway (yup, I'm giving my age away). The bot has six legs that can be controlled individually and a flamethrower for a tail. An air bag-like mechanism on its belly lets the scorpion hoist itself up. Again, other than scaring kids and squirrels away, there's no point to this robot, but it still looks supercool. Check out the vid post jump.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Figla robot cleans up indoors and out

It looks like Japanese manufacturer Figla isn't wasting any time putting its latest cleaning robot to work, recently setting it loose on the streets of Osaka for all to see. It appears to have learned a few more tricks than other cleaning bots, with its various parts able to be swapped out to perform different tasks, including waxing hardwood floors. While the company says the bot could be going on duty across Japan as soon as Spring 2008, it apparently won't be available to the general public, with it aimed instead at companies ready to purchase at least 1,000 of the little suckers.

Article Link
(Engadget, with video)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Launch Word of Mouth Campaign

Echopinion, a national word of mouth marketing and research firm located in Syracuse NY, incorporates word of mouth marketing to help companies develop and launch consumer products. With membership in 50 states, members of Echopinion try products free of charge and at no risk

Company Link

Bilingual toys big hit with nation’s littlest consumers

It’s a small world after all

“I made a big mistake by not teaching my kids Spanish,” said Heitmann, 37, recently at the Burbank, Calif., store. “I’m not going to make the same mistake with my niece.”
Spanish-English bilingual toys have become especially popular in the last few years, thanks in part to Fisher-Price’s wildly successful “Dora the Explorer” product line, based on the Nickelodeon cartoon about Dora Marquez, a 7-year-old bilingual Hispanic girl.
For the first time, Hispanic people – the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the country at 42.7 million – will flex more spending power than any other minority group in the United States, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business.

Hispanic disposable income will swell to $863.1 billion this year, up 8.1 percent from 2006, the Center estimates.

Article Link

Teens targeted with cellphone marketing

The percentage of teens with a cellphone
Age 13 42%
Age 17 75%
Teens are more likely to use cellphones for text messaging and other non-voice applications
Percent of teens who use cellphones for voice only 17%
Percent of adults who use cellphones for voice only 35%
Source: JupiterResearch

Technology designed to influence teen behavior should be "cool to use and add functionality," says Dan Butler, a National Retail Federation vice president. "Younger generations may certainly drive the utilization of these technologies. They'll take the time to learn a new technology because they automatically get the coolness and uniqueness."

Article Link

1-Year Review with Scooba: Thumbs Down

For cleaning his Brooklyn pad, he finds the charging, refilling of cleaning fluids, initial outlay of $200, and maintenance of the bot to be more work and expense than it's worth.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Chapit the domestic bot does less, looks cuter

Raytron's Chapit has nothing on the University of Tokyo's tea-serving humanoid, or Honda's helpful Asimo, but it's got looks in spades, plus it's still more likely to help you around the house than that sluggard Nabaztag. The bot can recognize voice commands with a vocabulary of 100 words to start, but capacity for up to 10,000 words. You can command Chapit to flip the lights, turn on the TV, and the net-connected bot can even be operated remotely if you're not nearby to shout commands in person. No word on news reading or weather forecasting capabilities, but they seem a shoo-in.

Article Link

Devious Clocky hits the market, ready to roll

We must have missed the memo explaining the world's growing problem of ignoring their alarm clocks, but on second thought, maybe it's just time (ahem) for manufacturers to crank out solutions to the issue that has quietly been around for centuries. Not too long after the ever-mischievous Blowfly hit the market to force drowsy individuals to rise and shine, Nanda Home is offering up the rugged (and oh-so-devious) Clocky to those who are ready to deal with their addiction to snooze. Ready to roll in almond white, aqua, and mint colors, this dual-wheeled alarm clock gives users just one free round of snooze before it darts around the room, blaring its alarm and zooming across floors until the exhausted owner manages to locate, load, and fire his / her shotgun at the free-spirited toy. Watch out, though, as this bugger can even leap from three-foot heights without missing a tick, and it's finally ready to shake up your morning routine for a relatively modest $49.99.

Article Link

Virtual worlds are 'worth $1bn'

Revenues from subscriptions to MMOGs will hit $1.5bn by 2011, said [Mr Harding-Rolls].

But the growth in MMOGs remains limited compared to developing markets such as video on demand, which is expected to be worth $11.4bn from revenues in four years' time.

Subscription MMOGs still dominate the market, accounting for 87% of all revenues, said the report, which examines the market only for North America and Europe.

World of Warcraft, which has eight million subscribers, has more than a 50% share of that particular market.

More than 10 million people will subscribe to MMOGs by 2011, and many millions more will play online games driven by other payment schemes, such as advertising and virtual purchases, the research report by analysts Screen Digest predicted.

Games such as World of Warcraft and worlds like Habbo Hotel are fast becoming "significant platforms" in the converged media world, the report said.

Mr Harding-Rolls said a number of new MMOG genres were emerging, including:

  • Virtual world building games, such as Second Life
  • Virtual pet rearing games, such as Neo pets
  • More casual MMO puzzle games
  • Sports games in which you have to buy items and build up your character
Article Link (BBC)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Virtual World Websites

This is a (partial) list websites dedicated to children social networking: (gay theme)

FIRST Robotics Competition: Like Battlebots with Fewer Saws

The core of the high school-level FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is the design and building of a robotic competitor. Each year in early January, FIRST unveils the competition or "game" at an annual kick-off event that is beamed by NASA satellite to auditoriums all over the world. This is the first glimpse students get of the game they will have to design their robot to play.

Working in teams, students have just six weeks to create their robot. They get the opportunity to work with programmable radio controls, pneumatics, motors, electrical circuits, mechanics, machining, web design, computer animation, computer assisted design, and other technologies - just like professional engineers and technologists do.

Article Link (Gizmodo, with videos)

Snow Globe Meets Eight Ball Video Player

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Japanese use robotic Lassie to pull victims from fires

From the looks of things, these humanitarian-tank-cum-playground-slides are controlled by a remote operator looking through that camera above the headlights -- which is definitely a good thing, because we don't really want robots pinching at us with their hydraulic fingers until machine vision has significantly improved. And of course, team this up with a hosebot, snakebot, or fire-snuffing flower, and you've just obviated the need for millions of firefighters worldwide.

Article Link (Engadget)

Wal-Mart looking to sell "sustainable electronics" to help Mother Earth

Following the trend of downsized packaging (as in Apple's iPod, for instance) and recycling as much as humanly possible, Wal-Mart is now setting a goal to sell "sustainable electronics" as early as next year. Wally World has "released criteria that will be part of a scorecard used to evaluate consumer electronics suppliers on the environmental sustainability of their products," essentially forcing suppliers who want to keep their products on such hot shelves to rethink their approach to "minimizing impact on the environment."

Article Link (Engadget)

Robot Art

Created by Greg Brotherton, these "robots" are handmade with hammers and steel. Roughly 7 feet in height, these robots weight between 80 and 200lbs.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Friday, March 16, 2007

InterRobot's tissue-dispensing robot smiles while you sneeze

The nation so well known for kicking out robotic servants is at it yet again, and this time around InterRobot Inc. is offering up a mechanical being to serve up handy tissue packs to the ill public that it runs into. The Mospeng-kun robot sports a human-esque design, the ability to wheel around and meet sickly individuals, and a continually smiling face that greets folks before personally handing them a pack of nose napkins. They'll run you (or your business) around $835 for a five day rental.

Article Link (Engadget)

DARwIn will be America's first humanoid RoboCup competitor

Virginia Tech's Dynamic Anthropomorphic Robot with Intelligence (DARwIn) has finally "evolved" enough (it's now on the fourth iteration, DARwIn IIb) to compete in the traditional Japanese sport of robot soccer.

Article Link (Engadget)

Thursday, March 15, 2007


I am endlessly fascinated by the need for one's packaging to have an impact on that typical consumer who gives us 1/16th of a second of eye contact. I therefore found this article in the February 11, 2007 New York Times Book Review about book covers to be of interest. I thought you might as well.

Article Link

Grandparents Market

I recently wrote an article, soon to be published, about the Grandparents market. I am interested in this demographic because of what I found in an article in the Houston Chronicle by David Kaplan entitled, "Toy sellers know who has the money: baby boomers." This story reported on the results of an AARP study on how grandparents spend their money. According to the study:" Grandparents spend an average of $500 a year on each grandchild, collectively $30 billion per year…."

Here is some additional information in the article that will not be found in my column:

70 percent: Of U.S. wealth is controlled by people over 50, according to a consultant at Age Wave.
10 million: The increase in the number of grandparents over the next four years.
$500: Amount that grandparents spend per grandchild per year.
$30 billion: Collective amount grandparents spend on grandchildren annually.
25 percent: Of toy sales are from purchases by grandparents.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Avi Arad set for 'Robosapien' movie.

Wowwee Ltd. have announced that they have joined forces with Arad Productions to bring Robosapien to the big screen. The feature film, which will combine live-action and CGI is targeted for release in 2009.

With worldwide sales of more that 4 million units, Robosapien is the most popular entertainment robot in the world, and has become the standard by which all other Robots are measured.

Article Link

Virtual-World Branding: For Real?

Virtual worlds may sound like a sci-fi concept, but they are rapidly becoming the place to be for young people in love with these 3D Internet landscapes. A cross between gaming and anime, virtual worlds such as, Second Life, and Cyworld are emerging as places not only to create and hang out as an altar-ego avatar, but to engage in go

Article Link

Lego Mindstorms NXTway-G much cooler than Segway

Roy Watanabe [...] took direct inspiration from similar self-balancing bots, the Legway and NXTway (basically NXT brick-controlled mini-Segways), but took it to the next level by using a gyroscopic sensor.
Article Link (Engadget, with video)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Walking robots

Catalog of research walking robots:

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Robo-salamander's evolution clues

A robot is being used by a Franco-Swiss team to investigate how the first land animals on Earth might have walked.

The bot looks a lot like a salamander; and the scientists can change the way it swims, slithers and crawls with commands sent wirelessly from a PC.

The group says it provides new insight into the nervous system changes aquatic lifeforms would have had to acquire to move to a terrestrial existence.

Article Link (BBC)

Apple to Make Networking Easier with RFID Tags

Setting up a wireless network is pretty easy (for most of us), but Apple wants to simplify the process even further by putting RFID transceivers into wireless base stations, like the AirPort Express or AirPort Extreme. All network info (like encryption keys and SSID info) would be stored in the base station. Devices that you want to connect to your network would be fitted with RFID tags, so when the two come face-to-face (the device and your base station), RFID info can be read/written to the tag without having to configure anything. As an example, the patent mentions an Apple Wi-Fi remote...

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Giraffe Robot Lets Your Boss Remotely Keep Tabs on the Office

Designed by HeadThere, the Giraffe is a remote controlled mobile videoconferencing robot. It can be operated via the Internet by anyone who wants to see, talk, or interact with people far-away. The robot stands 5'8" tall and uses a 14-inch LCD with the image of its controller as its "face." It uses a wide-angle 2MP camera to "see" and communicates via its built-in speakers. It'll be out in 2007 for anywhere between $1,800 and $3,000.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Robosapien Coming to the Big Screen

The Robosapien is going to be hitting the big screen. The robot will be starring in its own movie and it will be made with the help of Avi Arad and his production company. Arad has put work into Spiderman movies, the Hulk, X-Men 3 and the nostalgic X-Men animated series from the 1990s.
The movie will be a combination live-action and CGI and is in the early development stages, so don't be expecting this movie until 2008, at earliest

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Robotic age poses ethical dilemma

The South Korean government has identified robotics as a key economic driver and is pumping millions of dollars into research.

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law

"The government plans to set ethical guidelines concerning the roles and functions of robots as robots are expected to develop strong intelligence in the near future," the ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy said.

Citizens enjoy some of the highest speed broadband connections in the world and have access to advanced mobile technology long before it hits western markets.

The Ministry of Information and Communication has also predicted that every South Korean household will have a robot by between 2015 and 2020.

Article Link

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Toy makers put more imagination into play

"You want to make sure kids are learning by participating," said Claire Green, president of Parent's Choice Foundation, which for 29 years has evaluated children's products and offered unbiased advice to parents. "Good toys are not one-trick ponies. Good toys engage a child to think and to feel."

"The toy business has become an entertainment business," Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of Toy Wishes, a trade publication, told The Associated Press, pointing to a range of new products that include movie-making playsets and musical tooth brushes. "Children are on computers at age 2 and have iPods at age 7. Toy companies are realizing they have to step up what they are offering."

Other hot toys were those that interact with the Internet and preschool friendly gadgets such as toy computers and digital cameras, an acknowledgment that even 3-year-olds want to be tech savvy.

Tomy representative Alan Nowers said the company sees educational value in Big Big Loader.

"In this particular instance, we have had lots of positive feedback with this toy," he said, "especially with regards [to] educating children in sequential thinking skills, programming skills and attention span."

Robert Morgan, a teacher at a private school near Cleveland, posts creative teaching methods on his Web site ( While Big Big Loader may be a bore for a 6-year-old, Morgan uses the toy to teach sequential thinking skills to his class of middle-school boys.

"At the time I ran across the Big Loader toy, I was teaching beginners computer programming. It's sequential. One step follows the other. I set up this device in class and let them watch it repetitively doing its thing for about 10 or 15 minutes, then I asked, 'Why did I show you this toy?' Most said it's like programming in Basic -- you do one step at a time."

Article Link (Pittsburgh Post Gazette)

What creatures are you most scared of?

33% (144)

21% (93)

6% (27)

16% (69)

8% (36)

Bees and wasps
13% (55)

2% (10)

Total votes: 434

Monday, March 5, 2007

The Massively Multiplayer Online Lego Game

NetDevil is going to develop a massively multiplayer online game based on Legos. Imagine Second Life, but instead of being shitty, scammy, and filled with graphics from 1998 it's actually fun! You could theoretically build your own houses, castles, cars, helicopters, and Bat Caves out of Legos!

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Penguin Speakers

Are your speakers just too rectangular and boring colored? Are you looking for a set of speakers that will make the ladies go "Aww!"? Do you enjoying googly-eyed, waddling penguins? Do you consider "Happy Feet" and "March of the Penguins" as cinematic masterpieces? If so, these are the speakers for you. Bonus their eyes jump to the beat. Odd, yet strangely compelling.

Article Link (Engadget)

Disneyland intros roving animatronic Muppets

The happiest place on Earth (Disneyland, not Las Vegas during CES) just got a little happier this week, thanks to a new exhibit called the Muppet Mobile Laboratory that roams the park and delights visitors with inane banter and sprays of water.
Disney decided to eschew flesh and bone for metal and silicon when it tasked the Imagineering studio with whipping up California Adventure's newest residents, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his always chipper, possibly speed-addicted friend Beaker. The two wacky companions approach groups of visitors in their remotely-controlled, cartoonish rocket ship, and thanks to operators monitoring embedded cameras, microphones, and speakers, are able to to carry on eerily-realistic conversations that incorporate actual traits of the audience members. The L.A. Times reminds us that the MML is only the latest in a long line of animatronic entertainers, from the Enchanted Tiki Room and Mr. Lincoln in the 60's to Lucky the Dinosaur and Crush the Turtle in the new millennium -- but Honeydew and Tweaker Beaker are the first that can be modified to entertain in almost any environment. Disney expects the new tech -- which enables remote operation from as far away as Glendale -- to eventually expand its stable of characters to include some of the Muppets who are too small to be played by actors (as opposed to mice, dogs, and ducks, which are just the right size).

Article Link (Engadget)

Friday, March 2, 2007

Yummy Kitchen Connect is Web 2.0 for the Kitchen

Microsoft and the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) are in the middle of the Next-Gen PC Design Competition, and one of the entries is Yummy Kitchen Connect, a design concept for a wall-mounted touchscreen PC that keeps track of food you have in the house using a barcode scanner on the bottom that's connected to a community database.

You tell the device your diet and your favorite recipes, and it hooks up to the blogosphere to help recommend what might like for dinner according to your likes and dislikes. Since it keeps track of what food you have your pantry, it can also recommend a shopping list. Once you have all your ingredients together, it can show you recipes and tutorials right there in the kitchen while you're preparing your meals.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Thursday, March 1, 2007

How to Judge a Gift By Its Package

Bill Goodwin is president and CEO of Goodwin Design Group. His experience spans nearly 20 years, and his clients — including Binney & Smith, Campbell’s Soup Company, Colgate-Palmolive, Disney, General Mills, Hasbro, Johnson & Johnson, Mattel, Toys “R” Us and Wal-Mart — represent some of the world’s leading brands.

He recently spoke at the Youth Marketing Mega-Event 2006 held Mar. 27 to 29 in Huntington Beach, Calif. TDmonthly Magazine caught up with Goodwin to ask him a few questions about the significant role packaging plays in selling toys.

“Packaging is an important part of a product's success,” noted Kim Kutska, vice president of e-commers at GrowingTreeToys in State College, Pa. “For example, International Playthings repackaged the Egg & Spoon Race game so that it now shows all of the contents in blister packaging. As a result, we have sold many more than we did before, since it is a cute item that looks more appealing in this packaging.”

Goodwin explained that great packaging comes from clearly being able to communicate the benefit of a product. “A well-trained buyer is going to look at something and say, ‘I don’t understand what it is — I’m not getting the benefit.’”

Through promotions, package changes or brand evolutions, a company can easily keep its product’s story fresh, thereby maintaining an emotional relationship with the end user, Goodwin continued. Relying on structure (such as the shape of a Coca-Cola bottle), color (such as that of a pack of Crayola pens) and visual autonomy (no need for lengthy text), companies can guarantee their products stand out. In addition, the line between fantasy and reality is crucial, he noted.

“Kids interpret somewhat literally,” Goodwin said. “In the fantasy form, you can only take it so far before it creates a situation where you have an out-of-box user experience, and the kid’s disappointed, because it’s not what they thought it was; or God-forbid it’s bought by a parent, and it’s not what they thought it was. You won’t get them back, so the product depiction is essential.”

Goodwin noted that in package design, the toy industry could benefit from following the examples of other product categories. He offered the following tips:

“Define what the brand represents, and stick to it. Use the strategy — what the communication on the package is, what the benefit of the product is — as the defining parameters for everything you do in the design and creative process. It’s a product for kids, so why not ask kids what they like? They do that a lot in product development, but they don’t do it in packaging. The truth is that everybody who buys the product will look at the package. Why are we putting so little into it?”

Goodwin suggested that manufacturers just starting out model themselves after other successful companies. Unique ideas, he added, are key.

“Don’t even bother unless you’ve got something that’s better and has a genuine better benefit to people, and you can articulate it, and you’re willing to invest in branding and packaging in a way that will allow that to come across,” he said. “This is a battle for the consumer’s mind — but in this category, as in many others, first it’s a battle for the retail space.”

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The Secrets of Great Package Design

Getting Started: What’s Out There Now?

“A strong marketing plan, price and competition are the three parameters all packaging concepts are based on before any design work is done,” noted Dennis Claussen, senior director of packaging for JAKKS Pacific.

Similarly, at Mattel, “Brand look, product features, cost and the competitive set,” are the top-line considerations, according to Simon Waldron, the marketing director for Hot Wheels.

It’s All in the Name

So where to begin? The answer likely depends on the size of your company. For Small Marvel, a start-up that manufactures three to four products a year, it’s “The name. It’s the most important thing about the packaging,” Craig Zucker, head of product development, told TDmonthly. “It’s the thing you’re going to remember the most.”

A simple descriptive name may fare better than something clever. Said Claussen, “Packaging structure and function supersede the name’s importance in most cases. The majority of the names created [by JAKKS] are more descriptive, speaking to the toy’s function rather than its originality.”

This thinking is seconded by Waldron: “The simpler the name the better.” Therefore, a motorcycle that does a flip might be better named, say, Flipout, than GyroGrinder.

Make the Package Work Harder

Steve Varner, president of Bleeding Edge collectible dolls, said the best package is one that showcases the product well, ensuring that “it can be seen and positioned well, so that it will be intriguing when people walk by it.”

Interactivity is also compelling, and having a “try-me” built into the product often costs nothing.

Claussen also pointed to a trend toward integrating the package with the product. For toys with no other advertising support, “keeping the toy’s only source of advertising attached to the item through its entire life cycle” makes sense.

Plan for Growth

Smaller manufacturers report that their packaging decisions are highly collaborative because of the close-knit nature of small companies. But what happens when you grow? And your design team is now in another building … or overseas? “Blueprinting” your design can aid communication, experts told TDmonthly.
At a minimum this needs to entail:

* A rank order of the features
* The “magic moment” — the active feature that marketing wants to replicate
* The age recommendation
* The expected look and feel

Your company’s packaging requirements will change as your company evolves. Large or small, smart companies know the value of good packaging. It can be the difference between a great product that dies on-shelf and a great product that sells.

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Plush pet gets a life: Webkinz craze unites physical, online worlds

Webkinz toys sell for around $10, and smaller versions, called Lil' Kinz, retail for around $7.50, Ms. McVeigh said. Each Webkinz comes with a free one-year membership to the Web site, which can only be extended by buying another toy.

Industry insiders are taking note. Webkinz won the Toy of the Year Award in the Specialty Toy category at the annual Toy Industry Toy of the Year Awards earlier this month.

"Webkinz are creating a new phenomenon in the toy industry that crosses over gender boundaries and retail outlets," said Reyne Rice, toy trends specialist for the Toy Industry Association, the trade organization for North American toy manufacturers.

It's also part of a trend toward developing safe online portals for kids to satisfy concerned parents who want their kids to be tech-savvy but safe, she said.

Ganz won't say how many Webkinz units are made or sold, but Ms. McVeigh said the Web site has more than 1 million members.

Kids like Mrs. Martin's 9-year-old son, William Beebe, keep those figures going up. At last count, he had 17 and rising.

"My friend has 45," he said.

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