Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pleo is back and we want to give you one

Pleo is back, thanks to electronics and entertainment leader Senario, and we want to give you one.

The $349 artificial dinosaur hit the news this April when Ugobe, its creator, filed for bankruptcy. However, it is thankfully still available from web outlets such as Amazon, Target, Best Buy and BotaBingBotaBoom. In July, it will also be sold on QVC Live, followed by the Sharper Image’s Online Store.

Article Link

Monday, June 29, 2009

WowWee FlyTech Skyhopper: More Mothra than a Star Wars Airspeeder

Digging around on the FCC site can uncover some truly weird things.
Exhibit A this morning: WowWee's FlyTech Skyhopper (no, not that Skyhopper).
The remote-controlled 'hybrid insect' toy has the same flapping wing design as company's FlyTech Dragonfly, which we last saw waging war with cats and being snatched by Hawks.
The manual claims you'll be able to "back out of corners, jump over
obstacles, and make a running takeoff from the smallest spaces."

Article Link

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Is Execution More Important than Vision?

With all the hyperbole about Twitter today, if I asked you whether the executor or the visionary would wind up being more successful, nearly everyone would say the visionary. But—as Levchin no doubt knew when he made this point—the visionary is usually the one that gets the shaft in Silicon Valley.

Napster changed the music world, but it was iTunes that profited off of it. Google was one of the last companies in the Internet bubble to try their hand at building a search engine—and was laughed out of some VCs’ offices as a result. Palm pioneered the smart phone, not Blackberry. And Friendster was the social network pioneer before Mark Zuckerberg even entered college.

Article Link (Tech Crunch)

Shortage in US tech graduates

According to a new study released today by the Bay Area Council, the Campaign for College Opportunity and IHELP, some 40,000 new jobs are created every year in California that need people with degrees in science, technology, math or engineering. To meet that need the state would have to see a 90% upswing in these types of degrees. The study hints at a “devastating” impact the current shortfall of techy grads could have on the state’s $1.7 trillion economy if more people don’t go into these fields.

Article Link (TechCrunch)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Microtransactions to Fuel Virtual World Growth

The key drivers [of revenue growth] will be microtransactions, subscriptions, and advertising/sponsorships, with microtransactions expected to grow from slightly over $1 billion in 2008 to $17.3 billion in 2015. Microtransactions will account for approximately 86 percent of all revenue generated by virtual worlds.

Here's how the company sees growth over the next six years:

                        2009       2015
Adult:               11.5        32.5
Tween/Teen     125          395.6
Kids                  50           209.9
Total                186.5       638

Cumulative Unique Virtual World Registrants, projected, in millions, worldwide.

Overall, Strategy Analytics said it sees the global population of virtual world users growing from 186 million today to almost 640 million by 2015 -- that's almost one hundred million new players a year, a nearly 25 percent compounded annual growth rate. The fastest growing demographic is kids between the ages of 5 and 9 which the company predicts will grow 27 percent; the current largest segment of virtual worlds players, tweens and teens, should grow by some 21 percent, according to the company.

Overall, as virtual worlds continue to improve the user experience, Strategy Analytics see a conversion rate from registrations to active users at a growth rate of 38 percent through 2015.

Article Link (Virtual Worlds News)

Charging for media online

Wired editor-in chief-Chris Anderson kicked off his magazine’s Disruptive By Design
conference today in New York City with a speech about how the Internet
makes everything free, which is the topic of his latest book, Free: The Future of A Radical Price He articulated something that is now increasingly becoming obvious: As products go digital, their marginal cost goes to zero.

“This is the law of gravity online,” says Anderson.
“Everything that becomes digital will become free. There will be
a free version, either you will be competing with free or giving it
away for free and selling something else. If it is not zero today, it
will be zero tomorrow.”

When he addressed how this is affecting media and whether or not
traditional media organizations should charge for their content online,
he draws a number of conclusions from what the Wall Street Journal
is doing. The tension is not so much free versus paid, but free versus
freemium. In one slide, Anderson comes up with the following rules for
media companies trying to figure out how to make money online:

  1. The best model is a mix of free and paid
  2. You can’t charge for an exclusive that will be repeated elsewhere,
  3. Don’t charge for the most popular content on your site,
  4. Content behind a pay wall should appeal to niches, the narrower the niche the better

This is somewhat counterintuitive because it means media sites that
want to charge for content should charge for their niche stuff instead
of their most popular content. But that is exactly the right way to
look at it if you want to maximize your advertising revenues. Let the
popular content be paid for by advertising, and the niche, exclusive
content can be sold to fewer people at a higher price. Anderson, whose
last book was the Long Tail, predicts in media: “The head of the
curve will be free and the tail of the curve will be paid.”

Article Link (TechCrunch)

Buzz Lightyear Robot

The new Buzz Lightyear
robot is selling this Fall for $130-$150, and it proves
that robot toys still have a bit to go before they're really awesome.

There's some cool stuff to this toy, to be sure. It has original Tim

Allen voice work, which is nice, and it's obviously of solid
construction. But it seems like its uses are pretty limited. Once your
kid has said the dozen voice commands and has heard the quips and seen
the motions, there's not a lot to keep them coming back. Sure, there's
puppeteer mode that allows them to make their own sequence of motions,
but it just doesn't scream "play with me."

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Table-top robot

The mechanics are real but the video is staged.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dyson Robot?


Article Link (Crunch Gear)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why Pleo Went Extinct


After yesterday’s news that Pleo may get resurrected
to some extent, it might be worth having a look back at just what
happened to Ugobe. As shockingly entertaining as it might have been,
Pleos weren’t systematically destroyed by Combots
Rather, it was a more banal combination of factors. Ugobe’s chief
technology officer, John Sosoka, gave a lecture at Stanford a few weeks
ago entitled “The Rise and Fall of a Companion Robot: Lessons Learned from Pleo.” You can watch it in its entirety here.

The talk is 40 minutes long followed by questions, but here’s the
nutshell… Firstly, the economic collapse was obviously the main
problem. Pleo is a luxury item, and an expensive one at that. But
that’s the other part of it: nobody, Ugobe included, was really sure
what they had with Pleo. It was kind of a toy, kind of a pet, and kind
of a robot. Any way they tried to spin it, it was hard to market,
especially for the amount that it cost.

Speaking of, Pleo is still available on Amazon, and the price has dropped to about $150.
That’s only $10 more than Pleo actually costs to manufacture (the
wholesale price was $195), according to Sosoka, so it’s a pretty good

Article link

Giant Mecha

This 18-foot-tall, one-ton prototype is [Carlos Owens's] second stab at the project, the first being made of wood. This version was started in 2004, and it's made of steel with a system of cables and hydraulics inside to make it work.

Currently, it can raise its arms, bend its knees and apparently do situps, but it's not quite where he wants it to be. He's working on two more prototypes to make it lighter and more maneuverable.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

ReconRobotics Awarded $1.35 Million Contract By The U.S. Army

Minnesota based robotics developer to supply U.S. Army with 150 Recon Scout miniature reconnaissance robots.
ReconRobotics, Inc. announced that it has been awarded a contract by
the U.S. Army for 150 of its Recon Scout® IR miniature reconnaissance
robots. ReconRobotics will begin making deliveries on the $1,350,000
contract in May 2009. All of these Recon Scout IR robots will be
manufactured in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Femisapien/EMA: A Great Robot Concept Still Waiting For Success

Ema robot

Every robot designer loves their own creations, at least at the
beginning, and they often find it difficult to understand why other
people aren’t as enraptured with the beauty and wonder of the robot
they gave birth to. Still, at the end of the day the bottom line is to
create products that customers relate to enough that they feel
compelled to open their wallets and give us their hard earned cash or

If we’re really lucky, and really creative, then we can repeat the
process over and over again, using the profits from this product
generation to build the next one. And, our customers will be so
delighted with our products that they will automatically come back to
buy more and more.

That being said, good robots, sometimes really excellent robots,
sometimes fail to take off and become best sellers. An example is “EMA”
(Eternal Maiden Actualization). EMA was originally developed by WowWee
as the first female addition to their extremely popular Robosapien
robot series, and sold in the US and Europe as the “Femisapien”.

Sega Toys did an OEM deal to import, repackage, and market the
Femisapien under their own label and renamed the robot “EMA”. The
world-wide press coverage at the time frequently mis-stated that EMA
was a new Japanese creation, playing off the “robot-crazy Japanese”

Femisapien/EMA incorporated a unique human/robot interface with the
user controlling the robot by physically touching (caressing?)
different parts of the robots body. Tilt EMA’s head and press down,
then EMA would break into song and perform a short demo dance routine.
Lift her arm, and move her hand somewhat like a joy stick, and EMA
would follow you around. The robot also included a number of sensors to
enhance the interaction and play value.

As innovative and advanced as EMA’s user interface was, it still wasn’t
intuitive for the usual customer. People found it difficult to wrap
their heads around the user interface, primarily we believe because it
was so innovative and non-standard. Had they been willing to invest the
time and effort to get proficient with the interface, then EMA had a
lot to offer. Unfortunately most customers aren’t willing to spend
hours or days trying to figure out a new toy, no matter how great the
technology or interface might be.

Hoping to open the world of robotics to a virtually untapped market,
WowWee’s original target audience was young girls, and hoped that the
Femisapien would instantly bond with them. Trying to avoid the
traditional RC type remote control concepts, WowWee replaced them with
the touchy/feely approach that turned out to be even harder for
customers to understand and adopt.

Bringing the robot to the Japanese market, Sega Toys appears to have
retargeted it towards young male robot ‘otaku’ who would couldn’t live
with out their own personal robot ‘maiden’. And, they priced the
product at almost double the US price, too expensive for the casual
customer just looking for a cheap robot toy, and too few features for
customers looking for fully functional humanoid robotics. Neither fish
nor fowl, and with a difficult to grok user interface, EMA is gathering
dust on store shelves here inspite of considerable price discounting by
retailers trying to clear out slow or non-moving inventory.

It’s really a shame. We like Femisapien/EMA a lot. Our Femisapien
(US version) occupies a prime spot in our living room and is frequently
the center of attraction at our parties and social gatherings. We even
slip it into our backpack to show off at meetings or training sessions.

Hopefully WowWee, Sega Toys, and other robot toy manufacturers will
learn from the Femisapien/EMA experience, and will improve on the
robot’s groundbreaking approach. Many of the robot’s concepts should be
adopted and integrated into follow-on, or next generation, products.

Article Link

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pleo To Get Resurrected By Manufacturer


The new owners of Ugobe’s intellectual property, a company called Jetta, have pledged to resume production of the Pleo: “The
company is firmly committed to re-launching Pleo and continuing the
line including accessories such as the vital battery and charger
This is a pretty easy thing for Jetta to do, since
they’re the ones who were manufacturing Pleo for Ugobe in the first
place… They’ve got all the necessary infrastructure, and now that they
own the IP, I guess they’ll just fire up the machines again and start
cranking ‘em out.

Don’t get me wrong, this is certainly good news, I was just vaguely
hoping that someone would buy the Ugobe IP and use it to make Pleo 2.0.
Instead, Pleo belongs to a manufacturer, as opposed to a developer.
We’ll just have to wait and see what comes of it, as there’s no
information yet on a timeframe.

Article Link

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pittsburgh’s Technology Collaborative funds nine companies $1.5 M

The Technology Collaborative,
the Pittsburgh-based economic development organization that supports
the growth of world-class robotics, cyber-security and digital
technology, has awarded $1.5 million to nine companies and one Carnegie
Mellon University project.

Eight are Pittsburgh-based and two
are Philadelphia-based companies. All the projects are underway and
will be completed by 2010.

“We received a record number of
proposals which is indicative of the funding challenges faced by early
stage companies across the country,” says David Ruppersberger,
president and CEO of TTC. “The good news is that this particular group
of awardees looks very promising in terms of their potential commercial
success and economic impact on the region.”

Article Link