Wednesday, December 31, 2008

High-Income Shoppers Slashed Spending Most Over The Holidays

Hitwise has just released a brief report examining the spending habits for web users over the holiday season. The study found that the biggest drop off in traffic was among
shoppers that fell under the ‘high-income’ demographic,
which is classified as households earning more than $150,000 per year.
Traffic from these upper-class buyers dropped 12.33% comparing December
2007 to December 2008, versus a drop of around 1% for those making less
than $30,000 a year and an increase in traffic from everyone
else. The report doesn’t make any guesses as to why this happened
(perhaps the more wealthy users were losing more money in the stock
market?), but it’s an interesting trend nonetheless.

Article Link (TechChrunch)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sensor-Equipped Footballs to Make Refs More Accurate

Dr. Priya Narasimhan of Carnegie Mellon University has developed the football and gloves, loading them up with wireless sensors that can precisely determine whether or not a ball hit the ground before being caught or whether or not someone had control of the ball before fumbling. It could also, using GPS, determine whether or not the ball cross the goal line. But the applications don't stop there.

Eventually, the same kind of sensors used in the gloves could be adapted to shoes, to measure stride and running patterns, or even shoulder pads, to calculate blocking positions and force.

The current version of the glove has 15 touch sensors on the fingers and palm, running to a wireless module on the back of the arm, said Adam Goldhammer of Richboro, Bucks County, a master's student in electrical engineering at Carnegie Mellon.

"Knowing these contact points can tell how a ball is being thrown and how different people throw," he said, "so you could train how someone is throwing to match how they should throw."

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Consumers prefer vague product specs to utter ignorance

A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research has confirmed something we suspected all along: consumers love specs, even vague ones, and when deciding between two products people will gravitate towards the one for which more specifications were given. According to the journal, the research sheds light on both how preferences are formed in theory, and on how marketers can sell you more crapgadgets.

Article Link (Engadget)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Robot Rinses Dishes, Puts them In Dishwasher

Panasonic and the University of Tokyo have developed a robot capable of rinsing any dish and put it into the dishwasher. The dishwashing robot has three joints and enough sensitivity not to break your china. It moves on a rail, guided by TV cameras placed in the ceiling and sensors in the arm itself. According to the research team in charge, this is only the beginning.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 Launches Muxlim Pal Open Beta has launched its Muslim-friendly virtual world, Muxlim Pal, to open beta. The social network, which serves 1.5 million uniques per month first discussed launching a virtual world in October.
The inspiration for the virtual world grew from observing where
Muxlim's users spent the rest of their time on the Internet. They were
interested in virtual worlds, but there weren't many that the creators
found family friendly. The PG nature of the world, Mohamed El-Fatatry, founder of,  told the BBC, is aimed at more than just religious groups. Half of those members are from the United States with another 20%
coming from the UK, and the typical user is a woman in her mid-20s
looking for online entertainment content.

Article Link

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Advertising gloom

Most forecasts for next year say that ad spending in America will decline by 5% or more. Much depends on the fate of the automotive industry: carmakers and dealers normally spend around $20 billion a year on advertising, but Chrysler and Ford scaled back their expenditure by more than 30% in the first nine months of 2008, and are expected to make further cuts in 2009 as they struggle for survival.

The car industry’s woes will hurt all media, but especially television. Analysts at BMO Capital Markets predict that total spending on television ads will fall by almost 9% next year. Only newspapers, where a decline of 12% is expected, are forecast to fare worse. Carmakers have already shifted some of their advertising spending to the internet, and are likely to go further in 2009. Car ads make up 25% of advertising revenues for local television channels, and carmakers have been among the most consistent buyers of high-priced ads on national television.

Article Link (Economist)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Waterflux Art Museum Is Clearly an Alien Cockroach Nest

Horrific yet incredibly intriguing is the only way I can describe
this spiked and gelatinous alien nest that mimics the landscape around
it. Fortunately, it won't hold any eggs waiting to snatch human bodies.

reality, it's an art museum and alpine ice research station that will
be completed next year in the Swiss alps. The construction of the
building will use a computer numerical control drilling machine, which
will manufacture 180 pieces out of 2,000 cubic meters of wood. The
pieces will be assembled on sit

Article Link

Michael Arrington on Entrepreneurship

The joy of life is great, but all these two hour lunches over a bottle or two of great wine and general unwillingness to do whatever it takes to compete and win is the reason why all the big public Internet companies are U.S. based.

Too many people choose to be entrepreneurs as a lifestyle, without realizing that it takes everything you have and more to win. And if you aren’t in it to win, why not just take that nice job down the street that gives you five weeks of vacation.

Two hour lunches are great. But when you have investors to answer to and employees (and their families) to provide for, something has to give.

Article Link (TechCrunch)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Lil Drum and Bass Bot

Few robots are as charming as this little drummer bot. Armed with a rudimentary pill-jar plastic drum and a beep-bop-boop synthesizer, he somehow gets quite the groove on.

The Lil Drum and Bass Bot's creator Calculon320 claims only humble aspirations for the little $50 beat box—"plays his drum, provides his own soundtrack, simple object avoidance"—but there's an awesomeness here that puts even the Wall-E toys to shame.

Not only can he parumpapumpum with the best of them with his two swivel-action drumsticks, responding to tempo changes up to a super-vibrating roll, but in "object avoidance" mode, he can stroll up to a Lego Duplo brick or a wall and just start beating the hell out of it. To the rhythm. My favorite nuance is that the creator takes a robotic bummer—noisy servos—and turns it into a boon, a sort of wiki-wiki scratch track to accompany the beeping and drumming.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Toy Robot Battlemodo

Keep in mind, though two of these list for $400, most cap at $250, and they're alltoys. They don't have a heck of a lot of AI, though they do have an impressive array of user-triggered functionality and some goofy "spontaneous" behavior.

The Winner: U-Command WALL-E. One of the few bots here that is fun to play with more than once, this WALL-E is cute, interactive and kids can enjoy him without driving parents crazy by playing the same thing over and over—*cough*Elmo Live*cough*.

Rolly. I can't stop looking at this little dude. His syncopated dancing demands attention from anyone who sees him, and he is the bot that performs his most essential function—playing music through a speaker—the best.

Honorable Mention:
iDance WALL-E and Ultimate WALL-E. I like you both a lot, but why did you get me all excited with your decent prices, and then double them when I wasn't looking? Not cool guys.

The Loser:
Rovio. No offense here Rovio, we really like the though of a remote controlled, customizable webcam and we think you will get it right one day, but right now you cost too much and the most important feature you have—your webcam—is absolutely terrible.

Mr. Personality - $245

This is one weird bot. Turn it on and it will act like one of the many "personalities" you have downloaded to it, telling jokes, reading fortunes and interacting with you along the way.
Pros: 3-legged, multi-directional wheels move in all directions easily; multiple personalities technically mean relief from boredom; depending on the personality, it'll call you "master"
Cons: The default personality is very annoying; not enough functions to stay entertaining; obstacle sensors are too sensitive
Worth the money? Doubtful. Depending on the power of the development community some fun personalities may emerge, but they are severely limited by the options on the remote.

Rovio - $240
Maybe the most technical bot of the bunch, the Rovio is a webcam-on-wheels controlled via an internet interface. With some smart maneuvering, you can snoop on your daughter's date in the living room from the privacy of your bedroom. Or, if you have your own domain server, you can control the Rovio from anywhere in the world. It has major limitations, like an awful camera and outside of Internet Explorer you can't hear any sound, but its API allows customization so there's true potential that has yet to be reached.
Pros: Good looking, highly interactive UI; like Roomba, can return to its base to charge itself when batteries run low
Cons: Seriously shitty webcam; setting it up on a Mac is torture; if you bought this thinking you can easily control it from anywhere in the world for free you're SOL
Worth the money? Not yet. The Rovio is a great concept, but you'll be much better off waiting for version 2.0... or maybe 3.0.

Femisapien - $50

She's the female companion to Robosapien, and she'll blow you kisses, dance to music or speak in her very own gibberish language with you. She doesn't do anything very fancy, but she's the only girl here, so she looks better doing it than most of these other bots.
Pros: Fairly interactive; relatively inexpensive; giant robot boobs
Cons: Command system very complicated; routines aren't all that exciting
Worth the money? Only if your name is Zoltan.

iDance WALL-E - $53
The cheapest WALL-E of the crop, and a less expensive alternative to the Rolly, iDance WALL-E dances—if you can call it that—to the beat of your MP3 player, or his own built in sound bank. A one-trick pony, but I'll be damned if it isn't an adorable trick.
Pros: Look at that little bot—how could you not love it? His dancing is fun and silly, and he couldn't be any easier to use
Cons: The speaker sucks; WALL-E's moves don't match the music closely like Rolly's do
Worth the money? When we first saw the iDance WALL-E, he was only supposed to cost $25 bucks. But now, at twice the price, it's definitely one bot we can live without.

Ultimate WALL-E - $400
The name says it all: The biggest WALL-E of the litter is ultimate in every way. It will follow you around, dance to your music, or perform a pre-programmed series of movements and noises. Best of all, it uses a really interesting controller that can move WALL-E using a touchpad.
Pros: Big enough to seem realistic; a ton of features so it won't bore quickly
Cons: Expensive; controller has too many buttons that don't do very much; did I mention "expensive"?
Worth the money? Who has that kind of money to spend on a robot? Especially one that isn't programmable, upgradable or all that intelligent. It should've stayed at its original $190 price.

U-Command WALL-E - $130
U-Command WALL-E is the Baby Bear of the WALL-E bunch, just right in almost every way. Its controls are comparable to the Ultimate WALL-E, it can move, dance and make noises on your command, all for a much more attractive price.
Pros: Essentially a "lite" version of the Ultimate WALL-E for less than half the price, versatile controls allow for repeated play without getting too stale
Cons: The only WALL-E without a line-in speaker for MP3s; not as technically impressive as other over-$100 contenders
Worth the money? Totally. Even at $130, it's one of the cheaper robots on the list, and the most fun right out of the box.

Sony Rolly - $400
At first glance, the Rolly doesn't fit the traditional robot mold. The egg-shaped MP3 speaker looks like it's just another smooth white gadget with an "i" in front of its name. But when you see it in action, it's one of the most exciting little toys around, dancing wildly and putting on a light show to the rhythm of the songs coming from its body.
Pros: Great speaker; customizes dance/light shows to your own songs; amusing even after repeated viewings
Cons: Can't customize songs on a Mac (but you can on a Vaio!); can't jump to a specific track on the device
Worth the money? Surprisingly, it might well be. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but I get a huge kick out of the Rolly. The fluidity and snazziness of the movement and lights explains the steep cost.

D-Rex - $150
The scariest bot of the lot, D-Rex growls, attacks and lets out the sounds of bodily functions from every orifice. Rubbery, lizard-like skin and huge, moving yellow eyes add to the effect.
Pros: Creepy; fun to play with (for a while); the coolest looking of all the robots
Cons: Doesn't do too enough; may scare little kids (or is that a "pro"?)
Worth the money? Tough call. D-Rex is probably the biggest robot here and isn't that expensive for being so big. But since it only performs a few functions, don't expect anything close to a Pleo.

Elmo Live - $60
What's left to say about the newest version of every kid's favorite fuzzy friend? It raps, dances and tells stories and jokes, all in the body of the most popular Muppet of a generation.
Pros: Buy this for your kids and they will love you forever.
Cons: Don't buy this for your kids and they will hate you forever; also, the song "Elmo's Gotta Get On Up" has been stuck in my head for damn near six months
Worth the money? Do you have a choice? At $60 it's a steal compared to most of these other bots... but good luck finding it.

Article Link (Gizmodo, with video)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Jollbot Jumps Like a Grasshopper, Rolls Like a Ball

There are robots that can jump and there are robots that can roll, but the Jollbot is the first robot that can do both. These skills could be vital for future space exploration.

The University of Bath's work on the Jollbot was first brought to light last year, but it appears that their design has evolved considerably in that time. Not only can it roll and jump over difficult terrain, it can do it without the awkward drawbacks of leg-based contraptions—which makes it ideal for space exploration. Plus, it is super light.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Visits to online retailers up 11%

According to Hitwise,
U.S. visit numbers across all tracked retail categories declined for
Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday 2008, with the exception of
online-only shopping websites. Among the top 500 Retail sites, Walmart
was the top visited on Thanksgiving Day, but took over as
top visited Retail site on Black Friday.

Overall, the numbers showed an expected but sharp decline: the
percentage of U.S. visits was down 11% on Thanksgiving Day in 2008
compared to last year, and U.S. traffic on Black Friday was down 5%.
But online-only (not brick-and-mortar) stores, of which there are 100
in the list of 500 top retail websites, had a pretty good run: the
percentage of U.S visits to those shot up 11% on Thanksgiving Day, and
went up 10% on Black Friday compared to 2007.

Article Link (TechCrunch)

Ridemakerz Builds a Virtual World For Boys Filled With Its Toy Cars

There is a gap on the Web between Webkinz and Club Penguin and the more
adult social networks of MySpace, Facebook and beyond, particularly for
boys. Other than Pirates of the Carribean Online, there is not much out there yet. Andreini wants to parlay the loyalty of his customers into a virtual
world where they can design and play with the exact same cars they can
buy in his stores. Making that connection between the virtual and the
real, even if it’s just a toy, is where he thinks he’ll
have a leg up on the competition.

The Ridemakerz virtual world is being designed by the Electric Sheep
Company, which has a lot of experience designing virtual experiences
for corporate clients in Second Life. But this virtual world will be
entirely browser-based, built on top of its Webflock technology platform.

Andreini opened his first store in June, 2007, and now there are a
dozen across the country. His first store in Myrtle Beach, SC hit $1
million in sales 87 days after it launched. This year, that same store
hit $1 million in sales 53 days after June 1. He’s raised $23
million to date from Norm Pozez, whose father founded Payless Shoes,
and Build-A-Bear Workshop. Build-A-Bear, which operates a retail chain
with a similar concept around building teddy bears, is also a strategic
operational partner.

Andrieni estimates the e-commerce business will bring in about $250,000
this year. But he plans to invest $3 million to $4 million a year in
his new virtual world.

Electric Sheep took CAD files of all the body designs and measured all
the parts with micrometers to render how each car looks. Then they
converted that into Flash using 3D Studio Max and Papervision3D.

Alternatively, a child who buys a car at a store can enter the unique
Ridez Identification Number (RIN) number printed on each one at
checkout and he will get a virtual replica of that exact design. So he
can play with the same car at home and online.

Article Link (TechCrunch)

Friday, December 5, 2008

$20 Co-Robot

It comes in a simple to build kit and has only one motor (batteries are in the feet) and no servos. It operates entirely through gears and linkages and passive mechanical sensors, which is quite a feat of engineering in of itself. Co-Robot has three modes: walk, somersault, and dance, although it kinda looks like it’s trying to do all three at once in the video. It’s actually really impressive for only $20, if you ask me.

Article Link (BotJunkie)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Nerf projectile speed test: high-speed photography

High Speed Photography of Popper: These images were used to compute velocities and geometries required for the final iteration. 

The Atom Blaster started as a concept called the Hand Popper. It is a simple and effective way of projecting foam balls a good distance. The Hand Popper utilizes a bistable spring called a "Hopper Popper" to store energy. The foam ball can be loaded off of any surface or out of hand and is retained until the user presses the trigger. The projected foam balls from the Hand Popper can reach distances further than foam balls projected from the state of the art blasters.

Article Link (WonderBarry)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Remote Controlled Black Widow Spider

Created by London’s Natural History Museum, the larger-than-life (appx 12″ long by 10″ wide) mechanical arachnid can creep forward, backwards, left, right, or even spin itself around on a dime. The remote control works from up to 30 feet away, letting you stalk your unwitting victims from around a corner or hiding in their closet.
r/c black widow spider
Ready to unleash havoc? Head on over to UK gadget retailer and plunk down your £17.99 (appx. $28 USD). Venom not included.

Article Link (Technalob)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

To Buy Children’s Gifts, Mothers Do Without

In September and October, sales of women’s apparel fell precipitously compared with the same months the year before. They were down 18.2 percent in October, for instance, compared with a decrease of 8.3 percent for men’s apparel, according to SpendingPulse, a report by MasterCard Advisors. The downturn, analysts said, is being exacerbated by unexciting fashions in stores.

And a survey of shoppers’ intentions by the NPD Group, a consultant firm, suggests that such cutbacks may continue through the holiday season. Some 61 percent of mothers said they would shop less for themselves this year, compared with 56 percent of all women and 45 percent of men.

Reyne Rice, who studies toy trends for the Toy Industry Association, said mothers do at least 80 percent of the holiday shopping in a family, and in past recessions they have been the first to do without. They tend not to get a new coat for themselves, Ms. Rice said, so they can provide for their children.

Despite all these efforts, many mothers will nonetheless end up cutting back, at least a bit, on spending for their children. Historically, the toy industry has been more immune to economic downturns than other industries, but this year, analysts expect it to feel the pinch.

“While times are difficult, the last thing parents are going to cut from their budget is the Christmas present for their child,” said Gerald L. Storch, chairman and chief executive of Toys “R” Us. “We are not seeing price resistance for the hot toys.”

Article Link (NY Times)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

USB Stake Helps Brown Thumbs Turn Green, Monitors Soil Conditions

USB Stake Helps Brown Thumbs Turn Green, Monitors Soil Conditions

Those cacti on your windowsill don't deserve to die. Even if you
regularly fail at horticulture, the EasyBloom can help. Just leave it
in your proposed planting area for 24 hours, either stuck in the dirt
or propped up in its cradle, then plug it into your computer's USB
port. The gizmo measures soil conditions, sunlight, temperature, and
humidity, comparing the results with an online database to recommend
species that will thrive there. And should the weather be wacky that
day, the EasyBloom is smart enough to check the National Weather
Service for local averages. Your data is stored online for quick
reference. If you've already killed everything in the garden, plunk the
sensor down in your little Death Valley, set it to Monitor mode, and
let it tell you what you're doing wrong. But here's a tip: If you find
yourself running the autopsy repeatedly, it could be something basic.
You do have to water the crops, you know. The EasyBloom can't do
everything for you

Article Link

Hiring for Emotional Intelligence

There are multiple aspects to emotional intelligence, but homing in
on these three in the interview process will go a long way toward
identifying candidates with high EQ--and eliminating those likely to
destroy more value than they create:

  1. Self-awareness and self-regulation. The
    candidate understands the needs and wishes that drive him and how they
    affect his behavior. He regulates his emotions so that any fear, anger,
    or anxiety he experiences doesn't spread to his colleagues or make him
    lose control.
  2. Reading others and recognizing the impact of his behavior on them.
    The candidate has well-developed emotional and social "radar" and can
    sense how his words and actions influence his colleagues.
  3. The ability to learn from mistakes. He can acknowledge his mistakes, reflect critically upon them, and learn from them.

    Article Link

Tinker Bell appears in act of marketing magic

New toys called "Clickables" that link to the online world are hitting
store shelves for the holidays, and some 7.5 million fairy avatars that
children have created can will now be allowed to become privileged
members of the world for $5.95 a month.

Steve Parkis, the senior vice president of Disney Online Studios,
said makers of virtual worlds generally convert 5 to 20 percent of
visitors into paying customers with monthly subscriptions — which
enable users to buy better gags or weapons, pursue more interesting
quests or, in Pixie Hollow, make and buy outfits.

"Ten to 12 percent is where you want to be, 20 percent is very
successful," Parkis said of the conversion rate. "We would be in the
more successful range across the majority of our products."

Disney does not make its online revenue public. But, with a 10 percent
conversion rate and monthly fees from $5.95 to $9.95, Disney's online
worlds rake in an estimated $7 million a month, or $85 million a year —
on par with one low-budget hit movie.

Article Link

Holiday spending slashed

A little more than half, or 55%, of the 1,000 respondents said they planned to reduce holiday spending at least "somewhat," and a full 27% said they planned to spend "much less than last year," according to the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) survey.

The top two reasons cited by those planning to spend less were the economy and related economic uncertainty (36%), and less money (22%). From 2003 to 2007, the survey showed just 30% to 35% of consumers cutting back on holiday spending.

"Since data collecting began in 1992, we haven't seen a year-over-year decline." "This year, I'd guess spending could be 2% to 5% less than last year," said Hampel.

Record numbers of all age and income groups intend to reduce spending in 2008, according to the survey. Sixty-two percent of women and 61% of households with children said they would tighten the purse strings, compared with only 48% of men and 51% of childless households.

Article Link (CNN)

Monday, November 24, 2008

MIT's Huggable Robotic Bear

Huggable is another smart robot companion, a bit like Paro meets Teddy Ruxpin. Its body is covered in sensors and motors, including webcams behind his eyes and a speaker in his nose, and its designed to respond to you and react like an electronic pet. But it's a little smarter than Paro: it can act as a telepresence device, echoing the movements of a remotely-manipulated Huggable.

And the remote bear can also be moved by you, which opens up the chance for the possibility of remote-controlled cuddles. It may, at this point, help to remember the bear's intended for uses in places like hospitals, and in early-learning applications.

It's the latest version of a device that MIT's Personal Robots Group has been working on for a while, and as you can see it's a research device so it's not exactly wonderfully cuddly at the mo. Still, the group's working on a refined version that'll be used in real-life human-computer interaction experiments.
Article Link (Gizmodo)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bad product development

I'm tired of this. This sense of permanent discomfort with the technology around me. The bugs. The compromises. The firmware upgrades. The "This will work in the next version." The "It's in our roadmap." The "Buy now and upgrade later." The patches. The new low development standards that make technology fail because it wasn't tested enough before reaching our hands. The feeling now extends to hardware: Everything is built to end up in the trash a year later, still half-baked, to make room for the next hardware revision.

Take the iPhone, for example, one of the most successful products in the history of consumer electronics. We like it, I love mine, but the fact is that the first generation was rushed out, lacking basic features that were added in later releases or are not here yet. Worse: The iPhone 3G was really broken. For real. Bad signal, dropped calls, frozen apps. This would have been unthinkable in cellphones just five years ago. They were simpler, for sure, but they were failure proof. Today's engineering and testing is a lot more sophisticated. In theory, products can't go out into distribution with such glaring problems undetected.

On the other side, my parents have a Telefunken CRT TV and a Braun radio from the '70s which are still in working condition. They were first generation. They never failed.

For sure, today's products are far more complex than those of 20 or 30 years ago. But back then, the manufacturing was also a lot worse.

Clearly, the problem is the development process and the time to market, with product cycles shortened and corners cut to keep a continuous stream of cash flowing in. The rush to feed these cycles with increasingly more complex engineering seems to be at odds with shortened development and quality assurance processes, resulting in beta-state first-generation products. This beta culture, the same one that already plagues the web, breeds people who are willing to accept bugs in the name of cutting-edge gear.

That's the key: We have surrendered in the name of progress and marketing and product cycles and consumerism.

Maybe the recession will put some order in this thirst of new stuff and change the product cycles. As the economy slows down, people will think twice before buying the latest and greatest; they'll keep older hardware for longer. Then, manufacturers will have to rethink their product lines, and lift their feet from the accelerator, which will result on slower cycles and better products. Maybe that's our ticket for better electronics that actually make sense.
Or maybe... maybe that will be another excuse for the manufacturer to cut even more corners and keep lowering prices so that consumers keep spending and ending up with worse products than we have now.
Article Link (Gizmodo)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

SNIF Dog Tag Social Networking

Just for $299, the SNIF Tag clips on to your pet’s collar and picks up interactions with other SNIF-enabled doggies, allowing you to meet other fellow dog enthusiasts. The tag then uploads all the information to a SNIF profile and shares it with other SNIF owners at home.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

T-Mobile G1 Cost

T-mobile's G1 has been given the teardown treatment again by the guys at iSuppli, and their official estimate of its materials price is $143.89. The most costly part inside is the dual-ARM processor baseband at $28.49, followed by the display at $19.67 and the 3-megapixel cam at $12.13. Obviously this doesn't include external costs such as hardware and software development, packaging and the like, but it gives an interesting insight into the G1. And, even more interestingly, it's cheaper than it's competitor, the iPhone 3G: this runs in at $174.33.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Amazon Frustration-Free™ Packaging

This Batman TDK Batmobile & Batpod ships in a recyclable,
easy-to-open box and eliminates 4-color printing and minimizes the use
of PVC windows, fasteners, and 4-color inserts found in traditional

Amazon Frustration-Free Packaging, a multi-year initiative designed to
alleviate "wrap rage," features recyclable boxes that are easy to open
and free of excess materials such as hard plastic clamshell cases,
plastic bindings, and wire ties. The product itself is exactly the
same—we’ve just streamlined the packaging.

Article Links (Engadget and Amazon)

The woman behind the Google logo

In her first meeting with Page and Brin, Kedar
says, the two told her they were establishing a company based on
Internet searches.

"Most of the companies that offered searches at the time were big
portals like Lycos, Netscape and Hotbot, and results of the searches
were similar to results from the Yellow Pages: If you wanted to appear
in them you had to pay," Kedar said.

"This was the beginning of the era of gathering information on the
Web. Sergey and Larry wanted to do something else, what we call today
an 'organic search' or a 'natural search', which brings relevant
results. They already believed then that the future of the Internet was
hidden in searches," she said.

There are two reasons why the Google logo looks so simple: First,
it is based on an earlier sketch Brin designed using the free design
program GIMP; second, was the designer's decision to create something
simple, catchy and user-friendly.

While first sight the logo seems basic, as if it were never really
"designed," Kedar says that it went through many changes along the way.

"Someone who sees the logo for the first time doesn't necessarily
need to absorb all the layers and considerations behind every decision
- it's better for him to discover something new every time," she said.

Page and Brin, Kedar says, knew from the beginning of the process
what they needed. They did want to be perceived as part of the
establishment, as something heavy and cumbersome - they wanted to break
conventions and create something completely new. This, Kedar says, is
another reason the logo comprises only letters and no symbols.

"From the outset, it was clear to us that the name of company had
to stand at the center of the logo," she said. "It must be remembered
that at the time, many people were afraid to use the Internet, and it
was important to broadcast something user-friendly both on the home
page and in the logo. Something simple, that you didn't need to be
scared of, something catchy and full of life."

The use of primary colors - blue, yellow and red - was born of the
same desire, to design something that at first sight wouldn't be

"With green there is something that stands on its own, that's not
apologizing," she said, "and also the two Os that lean slightly to
their sides. This gives a little drive to the logo, but also shows that
nothing on this site is standard."

Kedar demonstrated, using some of the earlier sketches, the quest to represent the infinite search.

In one old sketch, an 'O' is transformed into a magnifying glass,
an attempt to show that search results bring the seeker closer to his

Another sketch has the 'O's at the center of a target to portray
accuracy, and to emphasize that the result of a search is important.

Kedar even used capital letters in one design, in contrast to the
final result in which only the G appears in capitals. This was intended
to instill a feeling that the company is solid and serious, while
attempting to protect the feeling of playfulness that comes from every
letter being a different color.

In yet another sketch, Kedar turned one of the Os into a face and
added a smile, in an attempt to portray a positive search experience.

Kedar says that when she first brought the sketches to Page and
Brin, they would look at the pages, place them on the table, and
discuss with their visions for the company.

"It was important for them to tell me about themselves, what they
believe in, where they see themselves in the future and which people
they were looking for to work with them, even at a time when the entire
company numbered five people," she said.

"In general, when people speak about their big dreams in life, they
apologize many times for it, for the pretension. They [Brin and Page]
weren't like that. It was clear to them from the start that they had
something big in their hands."

Kedar is no longer perturbed by the criticism that any child could draw the Google logo.

"Ultimately, the question was whether to portray a feeling of
playfulness without using a familiar symbol that would limit us in its
meaning, something that is possible to appreciate in retrospect," she

"We worked very hard in order to create something simple, and
that's also the reason all the other sketches were cancelled out on the
way. Or that they were sophisticated, or that they were too sharp. We
didn't want Google to be restricted to something, just like the search
is also not restricted."

Ten years later, the logo Kedar designed still continues to touch and surprise her.

"It somewhat amuses me to turn on the computer and look at the logo
I designed. But it also fills me with pride," she said. "When you say
Google to people today, they immediately see the colorful logo."

"Also, 'Google doodles' - the illustrations of Dennis Hwang that
accompany the logo in special events - don't disturb the design. On the
contrary, they awaken the strength of the product and play with the
logo in an exciting and very nice way," she said.

"From my point of view, that is a big achievement," she said. "I get a lot of pleasure from this child.

Article Link (Haaretz)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Recon Scout

Developed by the University of Minnesota using funding from DARPA, the
Recon Scout resembles your average barbell weight, but when you're not
workin' those triceps, this little fellow can be heaved across
flatlands, over fences, and into brick walls in order to secure a
location and start feeding back video of its surroundings. The two-wheeled bot is equipped with a low-resolution monochrome camera
that feeds images back to the Operator Control Unit, and since it
weighs just a single pound and fits in most cargo pockets, the whole
platoon could carry their own in order to really scope out the next
bend. Of course, the current iteration will only broadcast video up to
250 feet, and onlookers at a recent demonstration weren't thrilled by
its quickness, but a titanium-based wheeled spying
machine is fairly impressive regardless. Reportedly, the Recon Scout
has been sold to "law enforcement agencies" for around $6,500 apiece.

Article Link (Engadget)

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was
interested in this rugged bastion of self-sacrifice, too. They can
apparently envision all kinds of nightmare scenarios where prisoners
have weapons and no human wants any part of it -- which is why they've
agreed to a rental contract where they get ten devices and developer
ReconRobotics gets feedback from the Department in exchange.

Article Link (Engadget)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

MSR-H101 Hexapod kit

Robot builder Matt Denton apparently first built a
one-off Hexapod robot for himself some time ago, but he's now taken
things one big step further and is offering a kit of a similar bot to
the general public through Micromagic Systems. The
MSR-101 Hexapod looks to be relatively simple to get going
straight out of the box, with it boasting a built-in HexEngine with
plenty of pre-loaded settings, and built-in PS2 controller suppport,
which'll let you parade your creation about without having to mess
around with it too much beforehand. Of course, there's also plenty of
room for more experienced robot builders to get their hands dirty, and
Micromagic is more than happy to sell you a whole slew of optional
add-ons for the kit. Those just looking to get started, however, can
simply grab the base kit in their choice of black, red, or silver for
an entirely reasonable €105, or roughly $168.

Article Link (Engadget)

Hexapod Dancing Robot

Created by students from the
HTL Saalfelden engineering school in Austria.

Article Links (Gizmodo and Rocketboom)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

WowWee Tinker Bell

WowWee's latest stroke of brilliance, the $39.99 FlyTech Tinker Bell. Entirely more rad than that soulless Bladestar,
this here fairy promises to posses that same spirited sassiness as the
Disney character, and the flower wand remote control really caps things
off. She can buzz around and delight guests for 4-minutes on an
18-minute charge, and her "crash-resistant materials prevent her from
getting into mischief." Oh wait, it's appropriate for Earthlings ages 6
years and up? Huzzah!

Article Link (Engadget)

Virginia Tech's IMPASS robot has spokes, but no rims

Video: Virginia Tech's IMPASS robot has spokes, but no rims

The bot, with its rimless wheels, is shown dynamically adjusting the
length of each spoke as appropriate to scamper up over obstacles or
cross divots unperturbed. Two motors provide movement while three more
inside the wheels themselves use treads to shift the spokes in and out
based on inputs from laser and IR range finders, ensuring this ride's
height is always precisely calculated.

Article Link (Engadget)

R/C Fin-Fish Blimp

Much like Festo's Air Ray and Airjelly contraptions, this Fin-Fish R/C blimp floats so gracefully through the air that it is liable to hypnotize you at your office desk until quittin' time. There isn't any information on device, but it appears to be an entry in the annual Airship Regatta held in Germany. And, and like the Air Ray, it is probably built with a helium-filled balloon and servo-driven fins.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Elmo Live

Yesterday marked the arrival of Elmo Live, the rapping, dancing and storytelling animatronic doll
that'll be burning up retail this holiday season, Great Depression or
not. We got one of the little guys, and thoroughly evaluated his MC
skills, jokes and hugging ability. He's a fun little dude, at least for
a short while. Watch this video review before you "decide" to succumb
to the will of your kids and invest whatever cash you still have in
Elmo Live.
Elmo has four touch-sensitive spots—his foot, stomach, back
and nose—and he does different things depending on where you
press. Here's some of the funny things he does when you touch his nose,
such as sneezing and playing the "got your nose" game.

Videos at Gizmodo

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Impulse Purchases Most Common at the Grocery Store

* “Shoppers making a ‘quick trip’ to the store to pick up a few specific items usually purchase 54 percent more than they planned.”
* "Forty-seven percent of shoppers go to the store three or four times each week.”
* “Consumers graze at the grocery store, with impulse buys making up between 50.8 and 67.7 percent of total purchase.”

Article Link (Life Hacker)

Friday, October 10, 2008

WowWee's Mr. Personality

As you can see, the bot's a close relative of WowWee's Tri-Bot, with it boasting the notable addition of an LCD screen for a face, which promises to "display his personality with animated and synchronized facial features." The bot also includes an SD card slot than can be used to add additional personalities, plus 64MB of internal memory, a remote control, all the usual sensors and, of course, plenty of fortune and joke-telling features that promise endless hours of fun / annoyance. $300.

Article Link (Engadget)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hasbro's Kota dinosaur

Playskool's Kota the Triceratops is a robot dinosaur that uses 11 sensors to respond to touch and sound by wiggling its horns, wagging its tail and turning its head. It also plays a few "adventure themed songs." Best of all, it can't stampede or impale anyone; like the animatronic Triceratops in Jurassic Park, Kota can't get up and move around. That won't stop kids from adoring it though. Like Pleo before it, Kota's cuteness overpowers all.

Article Link (Engadget)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

WowWee acquires Think Tank Toys

Aug 28 2008

wow wee

Robosapien manufacturer buys New York-based company for an undisclosed sum.

The deal will introduce a range of lower-priced products to WoWee's portfolio and allow access to extra distribution channels. The firm's technological strength and operational organization will also be strengthened.

Think Tank Toys manufactures plush toys, action figures, promotional toys and a range of licensed lines including Hannah Montana, High School Musical and Mr. Men.

The company was founded in late 2006 by toy industry veteran Scott Bachrach, its president and CEO.

Article Link (Toy News)

Friday, September 26, 2008

What Is The Deal With This Stupid Lighter iPhone App?

Everyone keeps talking about Smule’s virtual lighter iPhone application called Sonic Lighter (iTunes link).
I wasn’t impressed: there are no less than ten different virtual
lighter apps in iTunes, which is what I’d call a saturated market. And
it gets better, because Sonic Lighter costs $.99. The official Zippo
iphone app is free. The basic functionality of all of these is similar
- you have a virtual lighter, you light it and when you move the iPhone
the flame moves aroun

Here’s why people are going crazy for Sonic Lighter, and are willing
to pay $.99. Smule has built in social and viral features that are
helping this spread like mad, and they also give this ridiculous but
effective incentive to use the app all the time.

can optionally share your location information with the application,
and when you light it you show up on a virtual earth-like globe. France
and Japan are going absolutely crazy with users, which you can see
quite clearly from the virtual globe and the screenshot to the right.
The longer a person keeps the lighter going (I have mine siting here
burning while I write this), the more”KiloJoules” you burn. And that
helps contribute to the geographical teams that are sprouting up and
trying to be the brightest on the globe. Oh, and you can blow on the
microphone and extinguish the flame.

Article Link

Don’t Forget Traditional Non-Tech Toys

  • Over 3 in 5 Tweens agree that toys are necessary to have fun (62%).
    When naming their favorite toys an actual brand/toy name is mentioned
    nearly two thirds of the time (67%) with Tweens are more likely than
    teens to mention a brand/toy name (74% Tweens vs. 65% Teens). When
    specific brands are looked at, the top two favorite brand mentions are
    toys with no batteries or electronic technology.

  • Probably not surprising, imagination, challenge and ease of use
    outweigh the desire for social and learning aspects of toys. For Tween
    girls it is important that toys are fun (88%), easy to use (78%), and
    makes them use their imagination (69%). For Tween boys it is
    extremely/very important that toys are fun (93%), makes them use their
    imagination (66%), and are challenging (61%).

  • Boys and girls differ in what they value in play experiences. Tween
    boys like the challenge of playing with their favorite toy (Tween boys
    21% vs. Tween girls 11%). Tween girls like the ability to play with
    their favorite toy in different ways (Tween girls 22% vs. Tween boys
    16%). When asked what they enjoyed most about playing with their
    favorite toy, the top five responses reported were fun (22%), variety
    of ways to play (22%), pretend role play (20%), creativity and
    building (16%), and imagination (13%).

What Is Creativity?

People tend to think of creativity as a mysterious solo act, and
they typically reduce products to a single idea: This is a movie about
toys, or dinosaurs, or love, they’ll say. However, in filmmaking and
many other kinds of complex product development, creativity involves a
large number of people from different disciplines working effectively
together to solve a great many problems. The initial idea for the
movie—what people in the movie business call “the high concept”—is
merely one step in a long, arduous process that takes four to five

A movie contains literally tens of thousands of ideas. They’re in
the form of every sentence; in the performance of each line; in the
design of characters, sets, and backgrounds; in the locations of the
camera; in the colors, the lighting, the pacing. The director and the
other creative leaders of a production do not come up with all the
ideas on their own; rather, every single member of the 200- to
250-person production group makes suggestions. Creativity must be
present at every level of every artistic and technical part of the
organization. The leaders sort through a mass of ideas to find the ones
that fit into a coherent whole—that support the story—which is a very
difficult task. It’s like an archaeological dig where you don’t know
what you’re looking for or whether you will even find anything. The
process is downright scary.

Article Link

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

WowWee's Rovio

The Rovio is quite definitely revving up for its September 26th launch with a bunch of new promo videos from WowWee. If you weren't already intrigued by the web-controlled roving webcam, then you will be after watching this teaser: it looks like it does a pretty fab job of maneuvering while streaming video and sounds. I do wish the camera vertical angle was more adjustable though. The Rovio's out this friday for $300.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Update: Review

WowWee goes out of its way to make one thing very clear about the Rovio: "this is not a toy." That being said, it doesn't make the patrolling sentry any less fantastic, as critics over at Robots-Dreams proclaimed that it was "intuitive and a pleasure to use from the moment you first open the box." From the painless setup process to the unparalleled mobility, reviewers sounded like they were grinning from ear-to-ear during the entire writeup process. It performed its robotic sentry duties with vigor and valor, and the review crew couldn't help but note that this bugger was "positioned to be the hottest robot for the upcoming holiday season, and for a long time to come.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Monday, September 15, 2008

High schoolers create face-tracking spiderbot

At the moment about all [the six-legged arthropod] can do is poise for attack and track faces using a built-in webcam (and what looks like proprietary face-recognition software), but the designers (high school students David Benhaim and Owen McGarry) assure us that they will be implementing the ability to walk -- and terrify your little sister -- shortly.

Article Link (Engadget)

WowWee's FlyTech Bladestar

Indoor flying toys aren't hard to come by these days, but WowWee's hoping you'll still be willing to drop a little bit of coin on indoor aerial supremacy. First introduced at CES, the $50 FlyTech Bladestar has helicopter-like blades for hovering, and built-in infrared sensors to avoid obstacles. You can control the Bladestar with the included remote, or stick it in autopilot mode to watch it avoid obstacles and even "push" it yourself by walking up to it. If it's war you're after, you can put the toy in "dogfight" mode to use the infrared signal as a weapon against an unfriendly Bladestar: three hits and you'll be testing WowWee's claims of crash-resistance. The Bladestar is available now.

Article Link (Engadget)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ypulse Guest Post: Virtual Worlds Expo Recap

I walked away from this conference with one happy realization – people in the industry are starting to get it! But what is "it"? Strategy! Thought! Depth! Meaning! Virtual Worlds are not defined solely by the gaming experience and socialization, but by the entire experience – from the minute a free user pops on the site, to the last second a paying member cancels their subscription (pray that day never comes).

Virtual World toys are getting more sophisticated (and awesome) - with Clickables “sharing & caring” play patterns; iToys’ Me2 plug-in seems to be offering kids a virtual reward for being real-world active; and Bella Sara folks really digging deep into the effective play patterns associated to trading cards & girls. Ethan Wood, Senior Industrial Manager at Mattel (working on UB Funkeys), said that toy companies need to spend time building a toy first before building a virtual world. The concept needs to have story to successfully interact with a virtual experience.

The panel, Purse Strings and Piggy Banks: Generating Revenue from Young Users, continued to talk about how important SAFETY is – not just for the user, but to secure the parents’ support. For companies catering to young users, there are only a few minutes to convince them. As PBSKids explained, “The conversation of ‘Yes, we have advertising, but if you buy subscription, you don’t have to see ads’ is long-winded and difficult to make instantly clear.” Everything (especially safety) needs to be obvious up front, and easy. As the folks from Magi Nation said, “roughly 90% of the audience won’t pay”, so you have to make your entire process as inviting as possible, “with little frustration to the user.”

Marketing and licensing still continues to be sensitive in virtual worlds, but gaining strength. Habbo, WeeWorld, and AIM spoke about sponsorships and how to use them correctly in virtual worlds. Campaigns need to have beginnings, middles and ends that organically fit within the world or the user’s experience. If a sponsorship/licensing campaign does not move seamlessly into the environment, it can offend the user and stunt the experience. Jeremy Monroe from Sulake mentioned that at Habbo “anything more than 4 weeks (for a campaign) is pushing it – both labor & engagement. You have entry levels for each level of participate: new user, long time user, part time user, evangelist user. You must make sure you have a game pattern for each to explore and enjoy.”

Article Link

Monday, September 8, 2008

Virtual world, real millions

Second Life Avatar

"To develop an MMORPG costs anywhere in the region of
$40m to $50m," he says. "If it's successful, you're going to continue
to develop content for it all through its lifetime, so some of these
games can live on for four, five, six years.

"That initial budget of $40m could end up over the life of a project approaching $80m, $90m - they're not cheap!"

It's estimated that the market is already worth more than £500m ($1bn) a year.

Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) participants pay for the software plus a monthly subscription to stay in the online world. One, World of Warcraft, has more than eight million paying members who generated more than $470m last year.

Article Link (BBC)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

@ Virtual Worlds: Disney Online SVP: ‘If It Doesn’t Matter To Kids, It Just Doesn’t Matter’

The “Disney (NYSE: DIS)
difference” lies in the company’s ability to weave its deep and
familiar library of content into virtual worlds that give kids the
opportunity to participate in their own storytelling, Steve Parkis,
SVP of Disney Online, said at his closing keynote here at the Virtual
Worlds conference and expo in Los Angeles today. Over the past eight
years, Disney’s online portal has transitioned into a place where
people come to participate in a community. “It creates a place where
you never have to leave Disney.” The underlying mantra at Disney Online
is: “If it doesn’t matter to the kids, it just doesn’t matter.”

Neo-storytelling: A sense of place is important for Disney’s
online audience. “Giving you no reason or specific subject to talk
about makes it difficult to do our job,” Parkis said. “If you take that
casual game player, you mix in our ability to take you to places you’ve
never been … add to that your friends … and you end up with amazing
results… We think this is the next version of storytelling.” Parents
are getting involved too. At 8 p.m. Disney typically sees usage flip
over from kid to parent after children go to bed. The former
Atari-fanboy and now proud parent of two added: “I don’t have the time
to train for these games anymore… I stink, I just can’t train enough to
get good at these games so that’s turned me onto casual games.”

Technology: “We took technology and applied it to storytelling,”
Parkis said. “This is very exciting. This is a new way to introduce
characters.” Disney began its online pursuits with a heavy bend on
technology that outpaced its competitors and the industry norm. “Our
R&D was so far ahead of the curve that PCs are just catching up to
where we were six years ago.”

Security: For the past seven years, Disney has utilized a
technology that looks at every conversation taking place on its online
properties, but also has live human moderation 24/7/365. “We’ve
operated very, very big worlds. We’ve also moderated billions of lines
of text.”

Article Link

Fans flock to Disney's Club Penguin Times

Club Penguin

newspaper industry is constantly bewailing its need for a new economic
model, as the Internet upends the old one. Maybe it could take a page
from the Club Penguin Times.

The Club Penguin Times, after all,
is more widely read than New York's Daily News, the Chicago Tribune or
the Dallas Morning News. And it's not even 3 years old.

But this weekly "newspaper" isn't tossed onto driveways or sold at newsstands.

it's an online publication distributed to the estimated 6.7 million
monthly users of Club Penguin, a snow-covered virtual world visited by
more than 12 million kids, who adopt a colorful penguin persona and
waddle around, playing games and meeting new friends.

Though no
one would suggest that the Club Penguin Times provides Pulitzer
Prize-worthy coverage, it nonetheless attracts 30,000 daily submissions
from children, who pose questions to Dear Abby-inspired "Aunt Arctic,"
compose verse for the poetry corner, tell a joke or review a party or

Kids ages 6 to 14 generate much of the editorial
content, which is augmented by staff features such as the most recent
story about decorating on a shoestring -- "a great igloo needn't break
the bank." A full-time staff of three plus one part-timer sift through
the submissions, searching for those with the broadest appeal and
selecting the questions most frequently asked of the advice columnist.

Article Link

Penguin Paper Doing Better than Some Real World Rags

An online paper covering news in a fictitious world populated by penguins has become more widely read than New York’s Daily News, the Chicago Tribune, or the Dallas Morning News, reports the L.A. Times.

The Club Penguin Times is a weekly online-only publication
with a readership of about 6.7 million monthly users of a Disney-owned
social network and virtual, Club Penguin.

The popular site, which Disney purchased last August for a whopping
$350 million, has been visited by more than 12 million kids ages 6-14.

While the news may be based in fantasy, their model is similar to
what many real papers are using to attract more readers online,
incorporating social networking devices and encouraging interactivity.
And one of the more successful features on the site is their
user-submitted content, which includes 30,000 daily submissions from
the pre-teen demographic.

This sounds like the perfect little hot spot for advertisers, right?

Well, neither the site nor the paper have advertising, which rely
solely on a premium service subscription fees and proceeds from an
online store.

And of course the real question is whether or not these kids who
care more about igloos and ice fishing will ultimately translate over
into real-world newspaper readers interested in politics and the

Article Link

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Webcarzz Gets $4M in Series A Led by Meakem Becker

Webcarzz announced today that it had received $4 million in a Series A round of financing led by Meakem Becker Venture Capital.
There's little information on Webcarzz goals except that it will be
releasing information about its online game in the coming months and
that it has partnered with MCS Games
to "to push the envelope in Flash-based MMOs." It sounds like a mix of
casual games and MMOs, though, specifically a "casual multiplayer
online game that offers a social space in which users can engage in
play amongst others, but which does not require fixed play patterns, or
skill levels, for success." There's definitely an interest in virtual
worlds, at least as far as the general market goes. UPDATE:
A Webcarzz representative confirmed that the company is "playing in the
virtual worlds space." We'll have more details in the coming weeks.

“With over 300 million online gamers today, the time is ripe for virtual worlds and multiplayer online games,”
said Chris Bergstresser, CEO of Webcarzz. “Competitive play,
multiplayer activity, and exploration make up the foundation for
Webcarzz. Together with MCS Games, we are creating a very unique and
highly engaging online destination aimed at a very specific and
underserved market segment. With MBVC and MCS Games as our partners, we
will be able to execute on our vision and deliver a truly innovative
consumer experience.”

Article Link

Monday, September 1, 2008

American Girl

American Girl - dreams big
Most brands could only dream of having a feature movie built around
their products. But it’s a dream come true for American Girl.

Based on a doll, the film Kit Kittredge was another in a
long line of successful brand extensions launched by the powerhouse toy
brand, American Girl. American Girl had worldwide revenues of about US$
431 million in 2007. That’s a pretty healthy chunk of the US$ 6 billion
in net sales recorded by American Girl’s owner, Mattel, also the maker of the Barbie doll.

Those young girls, predominantly ages 9 through 12 and known as
“tweens,” are a desirable target for brands. American Girl targets them
efficiently and relentlessly. Statistics cited by Kellogg World,
the alumni magazine of the Kellogg School of Management, indicate
tweens spend over US$ 10 billion annually themselves, but their parents
spend over US$ 175 billion on them. The tween market is estimated to
grow as much as 15 percent per year.

Article Link

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pittsburgh Puts Robots to Work, And Some Can Even Be Eaten

PITTSBURGH -- Most robots are functional. Only a few are edible, even nutritious.

Mickey McManus took five seedless cucumbers, carved them so they looked
like fingers and anchored them to a hunk of Edam cheese. To this
"hand," he attached a small electronic device, programmed to respond to
sound; when someone laughed or clapped, the fingers flexed. He brought
his cucumber robot to a wine-and-cheese party as an appetizer, along
with a robotic Rice Krispies Treats man that pivoted whenever the
lights dimmed.

Mr. McManus is neither chef nor computer scientist. He's a Pittsburgh executive who, along with about 500 ...

Article Link

Dizzywood Gets $1 Million For Kids Virtual Worlds

Kid-oriented virtual worlds continues to be a hot space… Dizzywood, a new virtual worlds startup for kids, has raised $1 million from the European Founders Fund, according to peHUB,
citing a regulatory filing. The SF-based company has previously
announced funding from Charles River Ventures and Shelby Bonnie. The
company was founded by Scott Arpajian, longtime head of CNET’s (NSDQ: CNET), Sean Uberoi Kelly (ex-Wallop) and Ken Marden, previously at Hasbro.

Article Link

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Erector's $300 Spykee gets a ship date: October 15th

If a pre-order page on Amazon is to be believed, the Spykee Spy Robot should be released on October 15th. It's sporting a hefty $299.99 price tag and a recommended age of 8-years and up, but we'll need to see some actual shipment notifications later this fall before we really get our hopes up.

Article Link (Engadget)

Friday, August 22, 2008

VIA shows off EPIA Pico-ITX-based robots

VIA looks like its not wasting any time in stepping up its efforts to get its more specialized boards and chipsets into as many devices as possible, and it's now taken advantage of the Taipei International Robot Show to show off their potential for robotics. Leading the way is Lynxmotion's Johnny 5 robot above (yes, that's actually its name), which has been outfitted with VIA's new EPIA P700 board and VX800 unified chipset just for the show. That, VIA says, offers a whole host of advantages over other systems, including "far easier" software development. Of course, VIA also sees plenty of potential beyond hobby kits, with it also showing off an EPIA Mini-ITX-based version of the Vecna Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot (or BEAR), and it touting the benefits of its Pico-ITX platform for all sorts of "extremely space constrained robotics designs."
Article Link (Engadget)

Google's Lively

IT SOUNDED like a brilliant idea. Google, the internet giant, would bring 3-D virtual worlds to the masses by making them accessible through a web browser. Millions of people log into virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft and Second Life every day, but they require special software and their complexity can be daunting to newcomers. So Google’s launch of Lively, in July, seemed to have great potential. But in the weeks since it opened its virtual doors, Lively has remained surprisingly lifeless, hosting a dwindling number of users and prompting a string of negative reviews.

Lively is a simple environment, amounting to little more than a series of 3-D chat rooms. To enter, you must first download and install a plug-in for your web-browser. You can then choose from a list of rooms, the most popular of which are (inevitably) themed around sex and dating. And although some popular rooms—“Love Sweet Love” and “Sexy Babes Club”—have had thousands of visitors, the number quickly drops into the double digits further down the list. Hardly anyone is using Lively.Why has it been such a flop? “There’s nothing to do in Lively if you’re not talking to someone,” says Greg Lastowka, an expert on virtual worlds at Rutgers School of Law in New Jersey. Second Life, he says, offers “commerce and creativity”, and Club Penguin (a popular virtual world for children, owned by Disney) has lots of built-in games.

Not all users are disappointed. Kathleen Schrock, an early adopter of Lively, signed up after using Second Life for nearly two years. Unlike many people, she appreciates its simplicity. “It’s so easy to use,” she says, making it much more approachable for anyone put off by what she calls “the hurdle of Second Life”—the time it takes to get started.

Google denies that it is beaten yet. Mark Young, a member of the Lively team, admits that it has a lot of problems: crashes, log-in difficulties and hard-to-read text. When asked what he hopes to tweak, he says: “Everything. Much of the user interface is not as complete or polished as planned in designs.” He promises a round of updates soon.

Article Link (The Economist)