Monday, March 31, 2008

Chumby Gets $12.5M...Here's Why It's Taking Off

Chumby Industries, makers of the Wi-Fi video and widget displaying device, the Chumby, have just announced
$12.5 million in Series B funding today. The company notes that this
new financing is going to be used to "accelerate growth of the company,
and expand and broaden the Chumby Network to other screen-based
Internet connected devices." How did this little gadget get so popular?
And why would you want one? Read on to find out.

What's a Chumby?

those of you who don't know, the Chumby Touchscreen Internet gadget is
a popular...and darned cute...gadget that can be customized with
various channels that feature widgets, videos, feeds, games, and more.

To use your Chumby, you plug it in and configure it to work with your Wi-Fi network. Once that's done, you log on to and customize yours with the widgets of your choosing.

These widgets can be anything - web clips, RSS feeds, games, videos,
Tweets, news, weather, a clock, photos, or a million other things. Some
of the widgets come from deals made with content providers, like the
widgets available from CBS, MTV Networks, MySpace, The Weather Channel
Interactive, AOL's SHOUTcast and Scripps Networks.

The Chumby also has speakers, so you can hook up the Chumby to your
iPod via the USB connector in the back and play your iTunes playlists
with it.

Made for Hackers

However, what's really great about the Chumby is that the device is
designed for customization. Want to hack, mod, extend, or improve
Chumby? Have at it!

The Chumby lets you upgrade your Chumby in four different ways:
developers customize the software, build Flash widgets, or even hack
the hardware. Arts-and-crafts types can also mess around with the
Chumby in their own way, decorating it or putting in a case of their
own design.

Software: The Chumby is a Linux-based,
open-source platform which means developers can do nearly anything with
it. A quick glance on the Chumby forum shows posts about Python & Ruby for Chumby, Java for Chumby, Perl for Chumby, MTASC for Chumby, and much more.

Widgets: For Flash animators,
the Chumby can be a showcase for your talents. Artists can upload
widgets to the Chumby site and share them with the community so others
can add them to their own Chumbys. These widgets are the
bread-and-butter of Chumby, bringing most of the cool stuff like news
feeds, videos, games, viewers, utilities, and other fun and/or useful
tools to the device.

Hardware: The Chumby is made for tinkerers. You can open up the Chumby, take it apart, upgrade it, add to it, and mod it. They even tell you how and provide extensive documentation.

Crafts: You don't have to be a computer nerd to enjoy modding your Chumby, though. Even artistic types
can enjoy making Chumby their own. The Chumby is designed so that the
core electronics can be easily removed from its casing, letting you
create your own look for Chumby without having to write code. See?

Modded Chumby on Chumby's flickr Group

Umm: WowWee RoboSapien Feature Film


Yes, RoboSapien can sometimes be pretty badass.
But does that mean that it’s a good idea to make him the lead character
in a feature film? I’m skeptical. Apparently, WowWee has signed over
the rights to produce a “feature-length motion picture inspired by WowWee’s Robosapien robot.” This movie will be called Robosapien: Rebooted (!), and will “combine a compelling live action story with the most advanced computer-generated imagery.” Needless to say, “under
the agreement, WowWee will have the exclusive worldwide right to market
toy merchandise associated with the film and its characters, and would
receive a share of the income from all other merchandising associated
with the film.”
The movie will be produced by Avi Arad, who has worked on the X-Men series, the Spider-Man series, and Bratz: The Movie.

I don’t mean to sound jaded, but this sounds more like a way for
WowWee to market toys than a serious movie effort, and if it ends up
being lame (and how many movies inspired by products have actually
turned out well?), it’s going to reflect badly on the robots and a
company that makes some totally cool stuff. I hope I’ve got it all
wrong, I really do… But, the production company (Crystal Sky Pictures)
is currently working on the next Rob Schneider movie. ‘Nuff said.

Hasbro acquires Trivial Pursuit for $80M

Toy maker Hasbro Inc. on Monday said it bought the intellectual
property rights related to Trivial Pursuit from Horb Abbot Ltd. and
Horn Abbot International Ltd. for $80 million.

Hasbro has developed, marketed and sold Trivial Pursuit under a license since 1983.

said the move will allow it to take Trivial Pursuit beyond
"traditional" venues into entertainment, publishing, promotions and
digital arenas.

For example, a television show expected to debut in 2008 called "Trivial Pursuit: America Plays" will feature the game.

has been aggressively expanding its board-game titles to new mediums.
It had a big-screen hit with the "Transformers" movie last year and in
February Universal Pictures said it will make at least four movies
based on Hasbro Inc. games and toys.

Shares fell 21 cents to $27.96 during midday trading.

Article Link

Friday, March 28, 2008

Handipoints Thinks a Virtual World Could Make Kids Do Chores in the Real One

If your kid’s obsessed with Webkinz and Club Penguin but you can’t get them to do their chores, you may want to take a look at a new entrant into the virtual worlds scene called Handipoints.

Founder Viva Chu started Handipoints in January 2007 with the notion
that chore charts would be both more fun and more effective if they
were moved online. So he created a site with two main parts: one that
helped parents track how their kids helped out around the house, and
another that consisted of a virtual world on par with the other
pseudo-3D services kids have come to enjoy.

These two parts work closely with one another to create sufficient
incentives for kids to do their work. When kids successfully complete
activities (such as cleaning their room, taking out the trash, or even
brushing their teeth and eating an apple), they gain either of two
types of points: so-called “handipoints” that can be redeemed for
real-world items such as Nerf guns and toys; and “bonus points” that
can be used to buy virtual goods in the online world. Parents determine
which type of point, and how many of them, is rewarded for good

Setting up a system for kids to redeem points for physical goods (or
money) was easy enough; all they had to do was hook up Amazon’s APIs
and create a custom storefront. But a significant effort has gone into
creating an entirely new and appealing virtual world, one that’s
replete with different settings, activities, items, and other users.

Like Webkinz, kids can walk around the virtual world and talk to
each other using canned chat (where you pick statements from a list
instead of typing them). This prevents inappropriate behavior. The
graphics are impressive and the functionality is rather sophisticated.
In addition to buying items and socializing, users can play in-world
games and watch movies (these require points, too).

Handipoints has raised $800k from Charles River Ventures and several angels - Keith Rabois, Georges Harik, Gady Nemirovsky, Robert Fanini, and Aydin Senkut.
It’s been in beta since November 2007 and has gained 150k users so far,
with 3.5 users per family on average (that breaks down into 1 parent
and about 2 kids). Most of the service’s virtual goods are free, but
the company plans on making money through selling premium goods to
parents who want to make them available for their kids.

Article Link

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Secret Formula for Generating Crazy Amounts of PR.

This is an ironic title since this blog is, in fact, a press hit that will

go into our ever growing press kit. That kit that has more than 1,000

articles in it from the past couple of years (check out:, which works out to more than one

article every day! So what's the trick? Well here are five simple tips:

1. DO NOT HIRE A PR FIRM: This is the golden rule in my opinion for one

simple reason: PR firms are mostly in the business of getting a monthly

retainer and less in the business of getting you press. If they were really in

the business of getting you press, they would charge per article produced

with say a formula that was something like: "amount of space/time given

to your story" x "angle taken" x "value of that space" x "percentage

commission" = fee to PR firm. I have yet to find a PR firm that didn't

hang up the phone on me after I asked them to do that. Also,
journalists -- according to my friends who are journalists -- strongly
prefer to talk with the business

owners or someone from the company instead of with an outside consultant.

2. A PRESS RELEASE IS THE STORY: Many journalists are overworked, and if

you can give them a prepackaged story, you're golden. Most press releases

are boring, long, and not really the story. A killer press release is one

that the publisher can print word for word (with quotes and photos) if
it chooses. Oh yeah, and it's all about the headline! The headline will
make or break your


3. WORK THE PHONES, NOT THE WIRE: Most people, once they've written their

press release, feed it into the news wire and think their job is done

because their story is just so good. But if you really want PR, you need to

call, e-mail, and keep calling the papers, magazines, TV shows, etc., that

you want to reach. Writers get hundreds of e-mails a day

and may not read your press release. So you have to call and get them on

the phone. Once you're on the phone, you have to care about the story and

be passionate about it in order to make them care. Also, research the writer before

you call. If you're asking writers to invest time in a story about your idea, you have to

invest a little in them.

4. LOCAL PAPERS: Did you know that there are more than 10,000 small local

papers across America. The staff size in these papers is tiny! They
cannot get enough local content since they don't have enough people to
cover the local baseball game or the bake sale at the local school.
Instead, they often publish wire copy from the news services. Most
businesses have hundreds of local story opportunities. For example,
when we launch a product at a retailer, we draft local press releases
for each of the retailers' stores. Then we call the local paper in that
area and tell it how a local store is carrying a cool new product -- a
product we deeply believe in -- and voila! There is a great chance that
an article will be written. Here's an example:

the above is pointless unless your story is interesting, sexy, and fun.
And the person making the call has to care about it and can't sound
like a lame telemarketer. Now, you may be saying to yourself: "My
company isn't all that cool. I work in a gray office, a cubicle farm,
and I'm launching a jump-to-conclusions doormat." Well, how about this

for your press release: "From gray dread to a million bucks. Seeing this

company, you would have jumped to the wrong conclusion."


Article Link

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

ApriPoko, Toshiba's channel surfing helper-bot

Finally, a robot that "gets" us. Researchers at Toshiba
in Japan have created a talking bot that can be used as a
voice-activated universal remote in addition to formulating plots about
terminating humans. The 5-pound, 11-inch-tall android is called
ApriPoko, and is capable of learning how to control electronics by
watching you and asking questions about your behavior. When you use an
infrared device, the robot senses the signal and asks the user "What
did you just do?" If you say something akin to "I turned on the TV," it
will commit the command to memory, and you can operate those functions
by voice. Apparently, the little guy is still in the R&D stages,
but there are plans to turn this technology into a consumer device.

Article Link (Engadget)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Robot babysitter keeps kids occupied in Japanese store

Inhuman babysitters aren't all that uncommon
around the world, but a new creature recently placed in a Japanese
department store is a godsend for shopaholics with rugrats in tow.
Developed by Tmsuk,
the 1.4-meter tall bot is employed at a Fukuoka retailer in order to
keep watch over rambunctious youngsters that are dropped off by their
overworked parents. Reportedly, said critter boasts an integrated
projector and camera, a colorful yellow / white outfit and the ability
to identify children by name based on a special tag that each kiddo
wears while playing. Of course, the manufacturer isn't looking to just
shove one or two of these into every store in Japan -- oh no, it's
hoping to create similar robots that could one day "guide customers
through the aisles of a store," fill their carts or whisper the joke of
the day in a French accent into their ears.

Article Link (engadget)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

MacroSwiss 6x6 Spyrobot Is Nearly Indestructable, Can Be Armed

When we last saw MacroSwiss's Spybot
it only had four wheels and minimal sensors. Their new Spyrobot model
adds thermal sensing, synthetic aperture radar, and two extra wheels,
which help give it the ant-like ability to carry four times its own
weight. MacroSwiss also added the ability to navigate back to home base
autonomously, similar to some UAVs. Apart from that limited
intelligence, the weapon ready robot is still fully controlled by a
remote operator.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Capuchin robot climbs

Dubbed Capuchin, the bot is a follow-up to the Lemur
robot built by the same team, and promises to climb walls some 40 times
faster than that earlier model. To do that, the researchers apparently
didn't make any major mechanical changes, but rather employed a more
advanced computer program that guides the bot's every move. More
specifically, as NewScientist reports, the software uses a
sophisticated load-balancing system, which distributes the bot's weight
equally to its arms and legs and improves its stability when climbing.
Article Link (Engadget)

People prefer robots that engage in small talk

While it doesn't exactly come as much of a surprise, a team of researchers from ATR Laboratories
in Kyoto, Japan have found that people are more accepting of robots if
they engage in a little small talk during conversations, as opposed to
leaving unnerving silences that make folks unclear of their intentions.
The researchers also found that of the 38 people surveyed, most were
willing to accept delays in responses of one or two seconds, but that
they much preferred if the robot threw in a "well" or "er" to fill the
gap if it was taking any longer for them to muster up an answer.

Article Link (Engadget)

Robot Drummer

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Samsung Hauzen VC-RE70V Vacuum is Roomba's Clever Cousin

Samsung's new Hauzen VC-RE70V robot vacuum has some clever tech inside.
It actually uses a camera to generate a map of your room, so it knows
where it has already cleaned. When it's low on juice it hunts down its
charging base for power, and then zooms back to where it had got to
before. Of course it also does obstacle avoidance with 15 sensors, but
that's not as cool as the mapping function. If it had internet
connectivity, it'd be the sort of thing you'd end up watching for hours
as it zipped around your home ... well, maybe. Out in Korea this month,
we don't know the price.
Article Link (Gizmodo)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Toys Boys Want This Easter - Bakugan Battle Brawlers

Sales of the hit game are spiking by over 400% a week across the country,
prompting retailers to double orders and toy company Spin Master Ltd to
airfreight more product in fast. In response to the massive popularity, Spin
Master is speeding up production on more than 30 million Bakugan to meet this
high demand.

"This is the biggest thing we've done in the 14 years since we started the
company," says Anton Rabie, President and Co-CEO of Spin Master. "It's
amazing how fast the Bakugan trend has erupted in the U.S. It's on complete
fire at every single level and the series has only been on Cartoon Network for
a little more than three weeks."

"Retailers tell us that it's the latest craze in the toy aisle across the
country," says Spin Master spokesperson Donna MacNeil. "Boys love to throw
things, trade things, and collect things of value, and of course do battle,
and Bakugan's got all that."

To support the spread of Bakugan fever, Spin Master is rolling out a
cross-country Bakugan Battle Training tour in April, visiting 1,200 Wal-Mart
and Toys "R" Us stores across the country and offering game training,
demonstrations, and special giveaways. The Battle Training Tour kicks off
with a ribbon cutting ceremony of a special Toys "R" Us Times Square Bakugan
Battle Zone in New York City on April 4, 2008.

Available at all major retailers, Bakugan Battle Brawlers come in a
variety pack sizes, with accessories including a Wrist Launcher, Battle Arena,
and 2" Action Figures, all ranging from $4.99-$29.99.

Article Link

Online Games by the Hundreds, With Tie-Ins

Viacom, the parent company of Nickelodeon and MTV,
may be moving the most aggressively. On Tuesday, Nickelodeon is
expected to announce the first of 600 original and exclusive games for
its network of Web sites, as part of a $100 million investment in game

The term “casual,” used to contrast with the action-packed console games popularized by Sony and Microsoft,
belies the fact that users devote hours to the games. Studies show that
one-third of Internet users play online games at least once a week.
Millions of children and teenagers play games on sites like Addicting
Games, Miniclip Games and, and social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are also becoming popular platforms for gaming.

With a series of customized sites for different age groups
(preschoolers, tweens, teenage boys, moms), Nickelodeon calls itself
the “biggest gaming network in the country.” Movie studios, video game
publishers, and toy makers are among the top marketers on the sites. In
the online games market, its stiffest competition comes from Yahoo Games, which had 15.5 million unique visitors in February according to the measurement firm comScore.

more than 12 million visitors each, Electronic Arts and are
also leaders in the arena. (By comparison, Microsoft’s online game
network, Xbox Live, has about 10 million members.)

Article Link

Fuel Industries and McDonald's reinvent the happy meal for the the digital generation

airies and Dragons makes its debut in restaurants across Europe in early April

OTTAWA, March 17 /PRNewswire/ - After twenty-nine years of wildly popular
children's toys, McDonald's is bringing its Happy Meals to the computer
screen. In an exciting new digital initiative, McDonald's Europe is partnering
with Canadian entertainment studio Fuel Industries to reinvent the contents of
the box that, for three decades, has had children and their parents visiting
McDonald's restaurants across the world.

This spring, children will be introduced to four mischievous Fairies and
four powerful Dragons by way of interactive CD-ROMs that will bring the
characters to life on their computers. In an original twist on what has become
a staple of children's advertising, these Happy Meal toys do not feature
tie-ins to a major children's film, game, toy line or television program.
Rather, they are original licensed creations developed by Fuel Industries, a
branded entertainment studio headquartered in Ottawa, Canada.

Typically, McDonald's has partnered with major studios to bring
already-established characters to their Happy Meals. The fairies and dragons
may be new to children, but McDonald's is confident that the personality of
the characters themselves will be attractive to millions of children in

"Working in partnership with McDonald's Europe has been a great
experience, and it is giving us a unique opportunity to have our creations
experienced my millions of kids worldwide," said Warren Tomlin, Chief Creative
Officer at Fuel Industries. "By licensing characters and content from our
100-person shop in Ottawa, McDonald's Europe is making a fantastic statement:
when a company is determined to create top-quality content, people will stand
up and take notice."

In keeping with the campaign's international focus, the interactive
characters communicate without language, and will be released in forty
countries spanning eleven languages. Once the disc, which is included in a
bright plastic case within the Happy Meal, is inserted, and the fairy or
dragon comes to life on their desktop, children follow audio and visual clues
in order to unlock the full gamut of games they can play with the character.

McDonald's will be shipping millions of CD-ROMs throughout April and May,
beginning a new era for its signature toy treat. By working directly with an
entertainment studio in a joint venture to produce original content,
McDonald's has made a unique change to three decades of tradition, and is
banking that the original characters and content are more than enough to keep
a generation born on the web entertained.

Article Link

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

How Child's Play

This fall, a new set of powerful night-vision goggles will hit the
market that use infrared waves to pierce the dark, while sophisticated
sensors show the view on a clear, monochrome display. But these goggles
aren't made for hunters, private investigators or the police. Rather,
they're a child's toy, called EyeClops Night Vision. The price is about
$80 -- far less than the $250 or so manufacturer Jakks Pacific Inc. said they might have cost just a few years ago.

The reason for the lower price may sound surprising:
the growing popularity of camera cellphones. A key imaging processor
used in camera-equipped phones has fallen in price in recent years as
the phone industry has grown. And that processor is also a key
component in the Jakks goggles. When the company was able to strike a
deal for the part at a price 75% less than in previous years, engineers
rushed to design a mass-market night-vision toy.

For years, expensive optical technology rarely made it
into the toy box, namely because costs were a put-off to parents in
retail aisles. But demand for personal electronics -- digital cameras,
cellphones and flat-screen television sets -- has driven down the price
of raw materials, giving toy manufacturers some unexpected bargains.

Companies like Jakks say they're leveraging this development to get the souped-up toys into big outlets like Wal-Mart Stores
Inc. and Toys "R" Us and passing the savings on to moms and dads. The
result this year will be a host of new gadgets that are mostly under


With a slow economy, mass-market toys will be touted
more than ever, experts say. "Last year a lot of companies found they
could get away with selling products for $150 and $200," said Sean
McGowan, a toy-industry analyst at New York-based Needham & Co.
This year "nobody's going to be shying away" from touting
affordability, Mr. McGowan said.

Hopes for 'Lucky'

For smaller companies, courting consumers with low-price, high-tech toys is a key part of competing with industry titans like Mattel Inc. and Hasbro
Inc. This fall, Bannockburn, Ill.-based Zizzle LLC, will release a
mechanical plush dog named Lucky that responds to 16 verbal commands
using a microprocessor similar to voice-activation technology used in
cellphones. After saying the dog's name, kids can tell Lucky to do
things such as lie down, sit or shake.

Zizzle tried to sell the dog in 2005, but cut back
production after it became clear that the retail price would near $50.
(Zizzle usually markets toys between $10 and $35.) This year, lower
costs on the voice chip, alongside other savings related to the toy's
development, meant Lucky could sell for $30.

"There's been a pretty big change in the weather,"
says Marc Rosenberg, Zizzle's chief marketing officer. In order to be
competitive, "you have to make chips do more for less money."

Riding on what engineers call the "trailing edge" for
components, toy companies have been able to use second- and
third-generation parts from other industries to vamp up their lines or
create new ones without upping prices. Emeryville, Calif.-based LeapFrog Enterprises
Inc. is releasing a $90 videogame toy called Didj that uses a color LCD
display similar to what's used on flat-screen television sets. Five
years ago, the part cost nearly three times what it does today, says
Jim Cordova, a senior LeapFrog engineer, but as the flat-screen market
grew, the component dropped in price, suddenly making the technology
accessible to the kids market.

The technology has been repurposed for some surprising
creations. Westlake Village, Calif.-based Uncle Milton Industries Inc.
is releasing a $50 "Pet's Eye View" that attaches to an animal's collar
and takes pictures with an 8-times zoom lens. Wild Planet Entertainment
Inc., of San Francisco, has developed a $100 spinning remote-control
car that transmits audio and video wirelessly and lets kids spy on
others in their household.

And Hong Kong-based VTech Ltd is offering its $50
Nitro Notebook computer this year and a $70 educational videogame set
called V-Smile Motion that uses a wireless remote-control pad to let
kids play games on a TV screen without the tangle of cords. VTech,
which specializes in toys for preschoolers, is attentive to drops in
the raw-materials market since "a mom doesn't want to spend $300 on a
toy for a preschooler," says Julia Fitzgerald, the company's vice
president of marketing.

Parents Watch Spending

That's certainly true for Kenya Young, a 35-year-old
radio producer from Los Angeles. Her two children, ages 2 and 4, "just
don't stay interested in stuff," she says, leaving the mother wary of
big investments in toys. "One-hundred dollars would be my max for that
age," she says, given her children's fickle tastes. "Probably once
every other month I go through their room and collect a bag for the

But other cost pressures mean the prices might not
last for consumers through the next year, say those in the industry.
Toys employing plastic, a byproduct of petroleum, are likely to face
stiff increases as the price of oil continues to rise.

China -- where about 80% of toys sold in the U.S. are
produced -- presents its own issues for toy makers. Labor costs have
risen by a third in recent years, according to the Toy Industry
Association. And increased valuation of Chinese currency against the
U.S. dollar may mean higher prices tags. "Some prices may have come
down, but eventually the savings are going to be countered by other
manufacturing costs," says Reyne Rice, a toy trends specialist at the
industry association.

Article Link

Probo is No Toy

Several years in the making and a huge investment by the Brussels
region, the project of the Robotics and Multibody Research Group at
Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Brussels Free University) is a
fully-functioning robot with the ability to read your emotions and
respond in kind. Called Probo, the 60-centimetre tall “huggable robot”
will debut at the end of this year in the children’s ward of the
university hospital.

Brussels Anty Foundation, which works to improve the experiences of
kids in hospitals, came to the university a few years ago with a
proposal to create a robot that could comfort children by understanding
their emotional and physical traumas and even explain medical
procedures to them. Probo is equipped with cameras in his eyes and with
audio programmes, so it can actually assess a child’s emotions. “Vision
analysis is used to recognise facial expressions and then translate
those into emotions,” explains Jelle Saldien, an engineer working on
the project. “Audio analysis can identify the intensity and pitch of a
child’s speech. If you combine the two, you have some idea of the
emotional state – if a child is calm or angry.”

Probo will also be able to respond to children appropriately with
its own facial expressions and speech that correspond to happiness,
sadness or confusion. “There are no real words, so it’s not really a
language,” says Saldien. “But it can communicate emotions with sounds –
like the Teletubbies do.” Through the use of artificial intelligence,
programmers can actually train the robot to improve its recognition and
response skills.

Speaking of Teletubbies, the Brussels’ robot will also be fitted
with a screen in its stomach to show children videos explaining medical
procedures they will undergo and “which crazy, scary machines they will
see,” says Saldien. “The robot can prepare the children so we can
reduce their fear before medical examinations.” Kids will also be able
to play computer games on Probo, and older kids can surf the internet.
Eventually, you could have a Probo sit in a classroom and focus on the
teacher and the blackboard and relay the images to the child in the
hospital, so he or she could continue with school.

But can an expensive robot really perform services that medical
staff can’t? “You have to give children information in a special way,”
explains Saldien. “When they are really young, they are living in a
fantasy world. You have to sustain that world, even when they are in
the hospital. Otherwise, it can be really traumatic for them.”

Hence Probo’s look and feel. To children, he is a big stuffed toy.
The name is derived from the Latin proboscidea, a zoological order that
includes a number of extinct species and now includes only elephants.
Of course, “robo” refers to its own modern species, making Probo a mix
of an ancient past and a technological future. Kids get a kick out of
such a fantastical creature.

Currently, robotics are being employed in other parts of the world
to perform tests, particularly with autistic children. Probo is only
one of two in the world, though, that is “huggable” – Japan has a baby
seal version they are using with children and the elderly.

The ultimate goal is to have Probos scattered throughout hospitals
in Belgium. But only one is expected to be serviceable this year. “Then
we need to build more prototypes and do a lot of testing and see what
is working, what isn’t, what could be improved,” says Saldien. “The
vision and audio software will be upgraded gradually, so the robot
becomes more and more autonomous. But for now, the main aspect is
really just safe interaction.”

Article Link

Scream Robot

Cool Robots


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Apple's design process

Pixel Perfect Mockups

This, Lopp admitted, causes a huge amount of work and takes an enormous
amount of time. But, he added, “it removes all ambiguity.” That might
add time up front, but it removes the need to correct mistakes later on.

10 to 3 to 1

Apple designers come up with 10 entirely different mock ups of any new
feature. Not, Lopp said, "seven in order to make three look good",
which seems to be a fairly standard practice elsewhere. They'll take
ten, and give themselves room to design without restriction. Later they
whittle that number to three, spend more months on those three and then
finally end up with one strong decision.

Paired Design Meetings

This was really interesting. Every week, the teams have two meetings.
One in which to brainstorm, to forget about constraints and think
freely. As Lopp put it: to "go crazy". Then they also hold a production
meeting, an entirely separate but equally regular meeting which is the
other's antithesis. Here, the designers and engineers are required to
nail everything down, to work out how this crazy idea might actually
work. This process and organization continues throughout the
development of any app, though of course the balance shifts as the app
progresses. But keeping an option for creative thought even at a late
stage is really smart.

Pony Meeting

This refers to a story Lopp told earlier in the session, in which he
described the process of a senior manager outlining what they wanted
from any new application: "I want WYSIWYG... I want it to support major
browsers... I want it to reflect the spirit of the company." Or, as
Lopp put it: "I want a pony!" He added: "Who doesn't? A pony is
gorgeous!" The problem, he said, is that these people are describing
what they think they want. And even if they're misguided, they, as the
ones signing the checks, really cannot be ignored.

The solution, he described, is to take the best ideas from the
paired design meetings and present those to leadership, who might just
decide that some of those ideas are, in fact, their longed-for ponies.
In this way, the ponies morph into deliverables. And the C-suite, who
are quite reasonable in wanting to know what designers are up to, and
absolutely entitled to want to have a say in what's going on, are
involved and included. And that helps to ensure that there are no nasty
mistakes down the line.

Article Link

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Brick by Brick

Lego Star Wars has been a massive success in the videogame
market, but the Danish toy manufacturer has been making other serious
moves in the interactive space since 1999. Not only has
offered hundreds of games since it was launched over ten years ago, but
the company has also released Lego Digital Designer, a free tool
allowing users to create and build online using digital bricks.

It's this computer-aided design project that has eventually grown
to become Lego Universe, the massively multiplayer online game being
developed by Lego and North American studio NetDevil. Here, Lego's
director of business development Mark Hansen discusses combining the
physical with the virtual to create what could be one of the most
intriguing and unique approaches to the MMO market.

Why has Lego decided to enter the MMO market?

What's really unique now is that the technology is at a level where
we can get more than just a single child into a single-player game. Now
we're looking at getting a mass of children into an area to play and
interact with Lego. One reason for that is simply consumer demand –
kids have been asking us about playing online with Lego and their
friends. They see the space and the technology – things like Club
Penguin – and they want something like that. We see the uniqueness of
building a massively multiplayer online game to add on value to the
physical product that we have. When the child sits and plays on the
floor with an army and a castle and his Lego knights – that's what we
want to bring to the MMO experience, what's in the child's mind. It
needs to be alive, we can bring that dream alive.

Are you concerned about the competition and the costs in the MMO
and social networking markets? If you're not competing directly with a
game like World of Warcraft then you will be competing with Habbo Hotel
or Club Penguin...

We're definitely aware of them but I think our game is a much more
unique offering, it's a different selling proposition, it's a more 3D
immersive world but it also builds onto our physical product which
really makes a difference. There is a lot of competition but the market
is also very big. It's not about cannibalising one product in order for
another to be successful, it's about adding to the market.

Article Link

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Friday, March 7, 2008

The i-spin

The next big trend in technology? Dancing robots. Yup. Sorry. It's
fate. It's out of our hands. Like this Sega Toys i-spin, it either
dances to ambient music or hooks to your MP3 player as a
speaker—I mean, how will this not be the next consumer electronics revolution? After all, it dances. To music.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Robotic snake moves by pushing off obstacles

A new creature slithering out of the Norwegian University of
Science and Technology is noticeably different than most. As you can
see above, there's a distinct lack of treads, tracks or wheels on Aiko,
as it actually pushes off foreign objects it encounters in order to
creep forward. Additionally, researchers have created a "virtual
double" of the critter in order to help guide the development of the
actual robot.
Article Link (Gizmodo)

Sega Toys' dancing I-Spin: like an I-Dog with a woofer orifice

Move over
there's a cheaper, craplasticer bot ready to stomp out your game. Sega
Toys just announced their ¥5,250 ($51) I-Spin dancing robot. Apparently
it responds to ambient sounds by rolling around and flipping its ears
in time with the beat. After that novelty wears thin, you can directly
attach the creature to any audio source where it will live out its
remaining years as an external speaker.

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Top Toys Honored at TOTY Celebration

The top
toys of 2007 were awarded the prestigious TOTY Award at this year's gala Toy of
the Year celebration at Pier 60, Chelsea Piers on Saturday, February 16th. The
evening was festive and exciting, despite a leak of an embargoed press release
(sound familiar to some?). And the winners of the 2008 TOTY Awards are:

of the Year
, representing the best toy of the year – Air Hogs Havoc Heli Laser Battle - Spin Master, Ltd

Most Innovative Toy of the Year, for the most outstanding,
unique and creative toy - Smart Cycle™ Physical Learning – Fisher-Price

Toy of the Year
, for toys designed for infant and/or preschool children
– Moon Sand Adventure Island – Spin Master Ltd.

Electronic Entertainment
Toy of the Year
, for toys that merge high-technology with creativity
and imagination- Power Tour Electric Guitar – Tiger Electronics

Toy of the Year
, recognizing a toy that, through play, helps children
develop special skills and/or knowledge - Smart Cycle™ Physical Learning – Fisher-Price

Activity Toy of the Year, recognizing a toy that inspires creative
play through various forms of activity- LEGO City – LEGO Systems, Inc.

of the Year
, including board, CD-ROM, electronic and card game formats
– Rubik's Revolution – Techno Source

Specialty Toy of the Year,
for toys distributed primarily through specialty retailers – Snap Circuits – Elenco

Outdoor Toy of the Year, focused on toys designed for outdoor
play - RipStik® Caster Board – RipStik USA

Girl Toy of the Year,
for toys developed specifically for girls of any age - Littlest Pet Shop: Display
& Play Round & Round Pet Town Playset – Hasbro, Inc. and Troop Groovy Girls – Manhattan Toy

Boy Toy of the Year, for toys developed for boys of any age
– Transformers Movie Deluxe Figures – Hasbro, Inc.

Property of
the Year
, for the licensor that had the greatest success spreading its
brand or property throughout the industry while generating interest and excitement—Hannah
Montana – Disney Consumer Products.

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Robotic snake moves by pushing off obstacles

A new creature slithering out of the Norwegian University of
Science and Technology is noticeably different than most. As you can
see above, there's a distinct lack of treads, tracks or wheels on Aiko,
as it actually pushes off foreign objects it encounters in order to
creep forward. Additionally, researchers have created a "virtual
double" of the critter in order to help guide the development of the
actual robot.
Article Link (Gizmodo)

Soaring Spybot RoboSwift

RoboSwift, built by researchers at the Delft University of Technology,
is among the first flying machines with a "morphing" wing sweep. As
you'll see in the video below, its wings reduce in surface area when
pulled back to limit drag, the way the wings of actual fast-flying
swifts do. Unlike the real birds, however, the RoboSwift is designed to
spy on you.

Inside its small body (20" wingspan), there's a low-resolution
wireless camera. The idea, already thought to be a good one by Dutch
police, is that RoboSwift can be used to surreptitiously hover over
crime scenes or football riots. People below, if they did look up,
would only to see a soaring, swooping bird of no consequence.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Robot Snakes

Unlike Indiana Jones, I generally don't hate snakes. But seeing these
modular mechanical snakes wriggling up some dude's leg gave me shivers.
The video gets scarier still when they start climbing walls and
shimmying up the inside of pipes. According to the Carnegie
Mellon-based developers, the elaborate "gaits" that let these robot
snakes maneuver on land and sea are achieved using low-cost hobby-grade
servos. So before you kick sand in the face of some pasty Carnegie
Mellon nerd at the Jersey Shore this summer, remember he may have a
backpack full of cheap, wriggly killing machines.
Article Link (Gizmodo)

Silverlit V-Beat Air Drums—Motion-Sensor Sticks


Silverlit, purveyors of remote-controlled things that fly,
have come up trumps with their V-Beat Air Drums. Containing motion
sensors (but, sadly, no neon tips like you see in the picture) they are
the beans to the toast that is the V-Beat air guitar. Plug your iPod
into the control box and drum along to whatever you fancy. There's even
some kind of pedal thingy that lets you drum with your feet, although
the protruding wires made me think "shoe bomb." $60.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Lynxmotion R/C Spider Uses PS2 Controller

For those who love everything R/C, this Lynxmotion hexapod kit is pretty
dorktastically awesome. While technically 2 legs short of spider
status, this hexapod has excellent mobility, as 18 servos drive the
legs (featuring 3 degrees of freedom) a foot per second and over
obstacles up to 4" high. Oh, and it's preprogrammed to work with a
2.4Ghz wireless PlayStation 2 compatible controller.

The thing to remember here is that, as a kit, the $750 Lynxmotion BH3-R
doesn't have all the polish of a retail product, but it leaves the
platform open to robot enthusiasts.

Windows software allows you to customize movement over its basic
programming that only supports multi-directional, multi-speed movement
and 360-degree spins.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Tween Girls Bullish on Fashion Fantasy Game: Online Fashion Game Gains New Entrepreneurs

NEW YORK, Feb. 25 /PRNewswire/ -- The Fashion Fantasy Game, a unique
fashion game and virtual world for teens and tweens has attracted over 9,000
unique visits and more than 2,500 players in the first month of its launch.
The site is an online "internship" that lets budding entrepreneurs learn about
business while they role play as either fashion designers or store owners -
it's playtime with a bottom line. "I created this new teen fashion game to
help young girls get insights into business, inspire them and broaden their
horizons," explains CEO Nancy Ganz.

Going beyond the paper doll format of other online fashion games, leverages the world of fashion to explain complex
business concepts, carefully blending professional jargon with teen-speak.
Designers and store owners compete for rankings, ratings and virtual currency
while exploring the effectiveness of marketing, advertising and promotion.
There are multiple levels and players upgrade to paid memberships to enter
contests with real prizes. Fabric selections, manufacturing locations, real
estate choices, trademark options, exclusivity arrangements, and learning to
network within your industry are all thoughtful decisions that are carefully

The game and its sister site R. Lilly Tuckerwear were created by noted
female entrepreneur Nancy Ganz who understands the business of fashion. As the
undisputed inventor of Shapewear, Ganz's Body Slimmers by Nancy Ganz unique
intimate apparel line was successful because she was able to excite a
conservative industry with a revolutionary new product. Ganz likens the game
to an online playground for teens and tweens that inspires and exposes them to
career possibilities for the future.

The developers hope the game will also promote confidence in tween and
teen girls being at an age where they are more susceptible to self-doubt and
accepting a less dominant role in academics, sports and social situations. The
role models of the R. Lilly Tuckerwear Board Members, the assertiveness skills
developed through game-play, and the support of other players is intended to
help girls' self-esteem. According to CMO and partner Nancy Jackson Hodin,
"having heard from girls in the UK, Australia, France and Italy, we can see
the game is having an impact with a global audience."

Article Link

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Toy makers directing kids to online component

A recent report for marketers from interFUEL Interactive Design
& Technology, based in Ventura, Calif., lists the seven must-have
features for any website aimed at kids, tweens and teens.

"If your company doesn't start using this new medium to enrich your brand, your competition will," the report says.

The seven essential features include safety, fun and self-expression, according to the report.

"If you're the fat kid at school, you can go online and be the
skinniest person ever," says Mel Bergman, the director of business
development at interFUEL, citing a common allure of the web that
applies to all age groups.

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