Friday, July 17, 2009

Bossa Nova's Sub-$100 Robots Move Fast, Birth 'Bebes' (Hands-on)

We stopped by Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh last week to get a sneak peek at a couple of new toys from Bossa Nova Robotics. The upstart company hopes it has found a niche in the toy market with Prime-8 and Penbo, which are inexpensive consumer robots spawned from multi-million dollar robotics
research at the university's Robotics Institute. "We have democratized
robots," co-founder John Fegali told us at the demo session.

start with Prime-8. It's a rough and tumble robot for boys that
resembles a gorilla -- if a gorilla were bright yellow and sped around
with arms that rotate in a complete circle. As co-founder and chief
operating officer David Palmer said: "One thing that never seems to go
out of fashion is action and dynamic toys." That's hard to argue, too.
Folks, this robot can move, and move fast, thanks to a a bi-pedal
design that transforms into a locomotive system when it gets on its
hands (which are wheels), making it glide across the floor at much the
same speed as an RC Car. It also doesn't require sensors to guide it
across the ground (sensors give the illusion of intelligence, but they
tend to slow robots down). Instead, Prime-8 is operated with an
infrared controller that is fairly responsive, though we did notice
some precision problems during out time controlling the bot.

has different 'emotions' -- if he's happy, he farts, but if he's angry,
he roars and glows red. He also plays a number of games (including
shooting toy rockets at, say, someone's little sister) and synchronizes
with other bots (we watched as co-founder and chief technology officer
Dr. Sarjoun Skaff made three Prime-8s do identical dances, but shhh,
that's not advertised on the packaging). For $99.99, Prime-8 has a lot
of features packed into its compact body. That said, the maing thing
that really sets apart this toy from other mass market robots, like Robosapien,
is its combination of wheels, two 'legs,' and it's ability to put on
some speed. We haven't seen a bot on the market that moves as fast as

Then there's Penbo--a furry pink penguin that oozes cute and waddles upright using the same technology as Prime-8. As with the baby-dino robot Pleo,
Penbo is autonomous and isn't operated with a remote. Instead of
action, it focuses on nurturing. Touch its heart, and the stomach opens
to reveal an egg that contains a fuzzy little 'BeBe.' You can remove
'BeBe' from the egg, and Penbo communicates' with it in a number of
ways. It might rock the baby to sleep or play hide-and-seek with the
offspring. According to Fegali, it took some hard work for the team to
really get in touch with its feminine side and decide what features to
use on Penbo. "It's actually really difficult to build a robot for
girls," he said. After plenty of market research and some one-on-one
conversations, the Bossa Nova team says it discovered that girls wanted
a more interactive and nurturing experience with a bot, as opposed to
Prime-8's action-packed design (what, girls don't like action?).

is a little bit cheaper ($69.99) than Prime-8, but it doesn't seem to
'do' as much as either. During our time with the bot, we just sort of
patted its head, listened to it 'sing,' and watched it waddle across
the floor. Plus, it's just so darn cute, with those big eyes, that it's
almost scary. Then again, we don't exactly think like a five-year-old
girl. Maybe Penbo will keep them distracted for hours on end? What do
we know, we're action-junkies.

Prime-8 will be available via QVC on July 25, and Penbo will debut in mid-August on the shopping channel. However, you can find both on
starting August 1. In a market that has lacked a 'must-have' product
since Furby, Bossa Nova might have a hot-seller on its hands, if for no
other reason than it fills some previously unaddressed voids: Designing
a robot for each gender is certainly a smart move, we think, and
personally, we can't wait to get our hands for more time on both of

Article Link

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Prime 8 - UK

Prime 8 (image © Antony Bennison/MSN)
This noisy, banana-yellow gorilla robot whirls around on oversized,
rocket-firing arms, comes complete with programmed ‘mood swings’ and is
guaranteed to create chaos under the control of a child. You have been

Article Link

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sega Toys' Dream Cat Venus

DSega Toys has unveiled yet another iteration of the fake cat. Dream Cat Venus -- as this one's been dubbed -- has sensors in its forehead, and touch sensors in its body so that it can react when petted. Apparently more lifelike than previous version Smile, Venus also purrs when certain words are spoken. $110

Article Link (Engadget)

Both touch and sound sensitive, the Venus (no relation to the planet or the feminine razor) reacts to your petting and talking with a proper amount of nudging and purring. And like the Sony Aibo, the Dream Cat can actually "see" through its camera-enabled eyes.

But does this poor robot need to look like the product from a My First Taxidermy kit? Drop the realism for a moment, Sega, and let these helpless kittenbots out of your dungeon in the uncanny valley.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Image Stabilization

Adobe and University of Wisconsin scientists have created software that can correct shaky camerawork. Using 3D modeling, it guesses the intended look, then warps the original video to adjust.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Teens Don't Use Twitter

According to June, 2009 comScore numbers, 11.3% of visitors to in the U.S. are ages 12-17. Internationally, in May, 2009, only 4.4% of visitors were younger then 18.

If you look at technologies trending with teens right now, it’s Apple devices (iPhone, iPod), smart phones (Blackberry, Palm), and then social networks (Facebook and MySpace). At least that’s what I see from hanging out with 1,500 other teenagers in high school every day (I am 16 years old). But why not Twitter? Well, because Twitter is a different type of social network than Facebook. Facebook is about connecting people, and sharing information with each other. The way my friends and I see it, Facebook is a closed network. It’s a network of people and friends that you trust to be connected to, and to share information like your email address, AIM screen name, and phone number. You know who’s getting your status messages, because you either approved or added each person to your network.

With Twitter, it’s the exact opposite. Anyone can follow your status updates. It’s a completely open network that makes teenagers feel “unsafe” about posting their content there, because who knows who will read it. Sure, you get emails notifying you when you have new followers, but that doesn’t compare to the level of detail you get when someone on Facebook adds you, and you get their information.

Twitter is also seen as more expensive to keep up with than Facebook. Most of my friends spend their time playing video games, watching TV, surfing online, and text messaging to actual friends who you know will reply back. In an economy like this, most parents don’t want to spend the extra money on unlimited texting to total strangers. So why spend money on sending SMS updates to Twitter, when you can send updates to someone you know will read it and reply?

Article Link (TechChrunch)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bossa Nova Prime-8 Robot Walks Runs on His Hands, Smashes Aibos to Bits

What's special about Bossa Nova's Prime-8 robot—a $100 descendant of DARPA and Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute's $20,000-a-pop all-terrain RHex designed for 10-year-old boys? It's the fastest bipedal toy robot ever. Just watch.

Prime-8 and Penbo (shown here) are the launch products for Bossa Nova Robotics, a spinoff of Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute with a really simple goal: To take awesome robotics tech out of the lab and put it in the hands of real people.

Here, the primary technology repackaging is its form of locomotion,
inspired by the biomechanics of a cockroach, whose pliant legs allow it
to quickly scurry over rough, broken terrain without thinking about it.
These make a complete revolution (unlike the roach's legs), but the
mechanics of them are similar—neither RHex nor Prime-8 need sensors to
move and balance. To see some of the relation between Prime-8 and RHex,
RHex climbing some stairs:

Prime-8 does more than run circles around other robots, though—it
intelligently re-balances itself automatically, plays games, can run
amok autonomously, shoot rockets and synchronize with other Prime-8s.
It's controlled via an infrared remote that's shaped like a generic
videogame controller. It's designed for kids around 8 years old. (I
hope they haven't played too many videogames before picking Prime-8's
controller, actually, since there's a lack of precision in the controls
that someone used to precise responses from inputs might be frustrated

That said, it's a lot of fun to play with, and pretty easy to pick
up and start slamming into stuff. I'd love to run it around on some
rougher terrain, as well, since it's designed to be tough—supposedly,
it can hold up after falling off of a table. There's definitely a more
visceral joy playing with Prime-8 than with some of the other robots
I've play with—the speed, the form (not a generic robot shape), the
kinetic-ness of it.

Both Prime-8 and Penbo launch on QVC on July 25 for $100 and $80,
respectively, before hitting Amazon a little bit later, and possibly
online stores for Walmart and Target for the holidays.

Bossa Nova is planning on using the same movement tech in future
robots as well, so they all move in roughly the same manner—Penbo, a
penguin, uses the same movement system, just slightly tweaked so it

Article Link

Bossa Nova Penbo: The "First Real Robot for Girls" Is a Pink, Waddling Penguin With a Baby

The adorable pink counterpart to Prime-8,
Penbo is supposedly the "first real robot for girls." It uses the same
locomotion tech derived from the buggy RHex robot, but cutified so it
And yes, it has a baby. Called Bebe. Cute overload, for sure. Unlike
Prime-8, it's not strictly remote-controlled—it responds to touch and
voice and...the baby, which is the closest thing it has to a remote
control, since it'll summon Penbo and interact and play games with it.
Penbo responds differently to different color babies—there are 4
colors, each with around 21 features.

But really, the best feature is the Penbo dance, which you can see
in the video above: Put two together and they waddlewaddlewaddle. Which
is how I guess they make more babies.

Penbo will hit QVC with Prime-8 on July 25, then Amazon later on, for $80.




Affordable Robots Feature Revolutionary 'Ani-Motion' Technology And Encourage Interactive Play

PITTSBURGH - July 9, 2009 - After four years of development, Bossa
Nova Robotics, a Pittsburgh-based, robotics company and spinoff from
Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU) Robotics Institute, today unveiled
its first line of personal entertainment robots. Combining the magic of
agile robots with a rich play experience, Bossa Nova presented two
interactive and enriching biped robots modeled after the way kids play:
Prime-8, a fast-paced gorilla robot, and Penbo, an adorable penguin
with baby robot.

Bossa Nova's launch comes on the heels of the opening of Carnegie
Science Center's roboworld™, the world's largest permanent robotics
exhibition, and further establishes Pittsburgh's position as the
nation's hub for robotics education, research and development. Penbo
and Prime-8 will be used in roboworld's innovative Robot Workshop to
help visitors understand the many uses of robotic technology beyond
familiar industrial environments and experience the many ways robots
are already in their homes.

Bossa Nova's robots evolved from RHex, a fast-moving, agile, hexapod
robot which was developed from 1999 to 2004 as a collaboration between
the CMU Robotics Institute and the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency (DARPA). RHex provided the platform for Bossa Nova's
'Ani-Motion' robotic technology - a revolutionary lifelike robotic
mechanism loosely based on animalistic locomotion. With a vision to
bring personal robots to every home, Bossa Nova spent four years
further developing the RHex technology to make it affordable and
capable of age-appropriate, robot-human interactivity.

Underlining Bossa Nova's research and product development is the Japan
Robotics Association's forecast that the market for personal and
lifestyle robots will grow to $15 billion by 2015. According to United
States ABI Research, approximately 75% of the market is attributed to
entertainment robotics with the majority of sales driven by children's

"The technology behind Prime-8 and Penbo has only previously been seen
in multi-million dollar research projects," said Sarjoun Skaff, CEO,
Bossa Nova, Ph.D Robotics, CMU. "To make this kind of technology
available to children is unprecedented and what we've seen in all of
our focus groups is that both kids and adults are impressed by Penbo
and Prime-8's technology and lifelike movements."

Continued Skaff, "Children's robotics is just the start, in the future
we envisage creating Bossa Nova robots that will change the way we
work, play, learn and stay safe."

Not your primitive primate, Prime-8 mimics the way boys play. Prime-8's
intense interactivity is powered by a battery of sensors that allow him
to respond to people and his environment. Outbound sight and sound
sensors help Prime-8 maneuver around obstacles, respond to questions
with grunts and growls, and express himself. A fast-paced, powerful and
fun gorilla robot with a strong personality, his personality radically
transforms from a friendly, funny gorilla with warm blue eyes to a
‘Gone Bananas!' robot, beating the floor and roaring from the top of
his lungs, with circuits crackling and furious red eyes.

On the other end of the robot spectrum is Penbo, an adorable
interactive and waddling penguin robot who surprises little girls when
she lays an egg. When the egg is opened, out comes Bebe - a tiny baby
penguin that will chirp and communicate with its mother. Penbo is aware
of her surroundings, loves to dance, plays games and talks with Baby in
Penguish, her own language; she responds to touch with blinking eyes,
flapping wings, and cooing sounds and is a perfect robot companion for
little girls to nurture.

Prime-8 will be available to consumers for the first time on QVC on
July 25. Penbo will make her consumer debut on QVC in mid-August. Both
products will be available online on August 1st and on shelves at
retailers nationwide for the holiday season.

About Bossa Nova Robotics

Bossa Nova Robotics has been redefining the robotics industry since
2005. A spinoff from Carnegie Mellon University's Robotic Institute,
Bossa Nova creates enriching entertainment experiences by combining the
magic of agile robots with the power of play. Based in the nation's
robotics capital, Pittsburgh, PA, the Company designs and manufactures
personal robots for consumer use. Bossa Nova was created based on a
dream that kids everywhere would one day have an opportunity to
interact with a new generation of toy robots. Unlike anything on the
market, Bossa Nova's robots showcase a new relationship between
technology and toys. Kids love Bossa Nova's robots because they're
exciting and funny; parents love them because they have a
family-friendly play pattern. In the coming years, Bossa Nova will
apply its robotics expertise to security, health, education and home
care markets. For more information about Bossa Nova Robotics, please

Article Link

Robotics company unveils obnoxious gorilla, adorable penguin that combine science and 'cool'

Combine cockroach mobility with high technology and the unlikely results are robot toys that mix science with "the cool factor."

Or at least that's the hope of Bossa Nova Robotics, a
Pittsburgh-based company and Carnegie Mellon University spin-off that's
combined high-tech with low cost to produce "Prime-8" and "Penbo."

Prime-8 is a cleverly obnoxious robotic gorilla that combines speed
and attitude, while Penbo is "an adorable penguin that's all about
interaction and nurturing," said David Palmer, Bossa Nova co-founder
and chief operating officer.

No toy robot ever moved as fast as Prime-8, Bossa Nova officials claim.

And each toy promises to entertain and educate children by
integrating toys with technology. Prime-8 in particular does show prime
potential to agitate parents, and what better formula for toy success?

"This is all about big dreams," said John Feghali, Bossa Nova
co-founder. "We wanted to create lifelike robots that act like they are
living creatures with animation and motion married together."

Bossa Nova unveiled the toys yesterday during a four-hour news event
at Carnegie Mellon. It will launch Prime-8 in August on the QVC
Shopping Network, with a similar launch of Penbo in September.

Prime-8 is a yellow gorilla-like creature that employs "innovative
biped technology." Translation: It rolls on its curved arms over
complex terrain, be it floor, rug, dirt, grass or gravel. It also can
stand, roll over, lean, boogie and stand on its head.

But that's not nearly the extent of it. Prime-8 also grunts, turns
happy, sniffs furniture, and just as quickly beats on the floor in rage
and "goes bananas" with blue eyes turning fiery red. It's angry bellow
is second only to King Kong's.

And Prime-8 also farts robustly. (There's even a fart button on the remote.)

Prime-8 can guard a room and protect its boss against siblings and
parents by firing rubber-tipped rockets. The robot toy is geared toward
boys as old as 12.

In all, Prime-8 performs 100 functions.

Despite employing the latest robotic technology, the toy carries a retail price of $99.99.

Penbo, cute, fuzzy and pink, is far more civilized and represents the rare example of a robot designed for girls.

The waddling penguin blinks big blue eyes and flaps tiny wings while
interacting readily with its owner. It can waddle some dance steps in
unison with other Penbos.

The plush penguin also purrs, speaks fluent "Penguish," and, unlike
Prime-8, shows no signs of aggression toward siblings or other humans.

Push Penbo's heart and pleasant reactions are unleashed. Girls will play with Penbo, but Bossa Nova prefers the term "nurture."

Penbo also lays an egg that hatches a "Bebe Penbo" that is a
surprise color of pink, blue, green or purple. Bebe and mom sing a duet
and interact with each other by playing peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek.
Mom even rocks the fuzzy little ball to sleep.

Penbo retails for $69.99, according to a company brochure, although there's an indication the cost may shoot up to $79.99.

The longer children play with Penbo and Prime-8, the more features
are released, so Bossa Nova claims boredom is less likely to set in.
Both robots play a number of games with children.

Bossa Nova, started four years ago by three Carnegie Mellon
graduates, developed the toys with technology licensed from the

The company quotes a Japan Robotics Association forecast that the
market for personal and lifestyle robots will grow to $15 billion by
2015, with the United States ABI Research predicting that about 75
percent of that market will involve entertainment robotics, and most
notably children's robots.

Key to Bossa Nova's success was a study of how cockroaches cross
rough terrain quickly. The roach moves its legs, which hit the ground
and propel it forward without thought or sensory perception.

That same idea was used to create RHex, a robot with six curved
flaps serving as legs that rotate without sensors guiding foot
placement. RHex uses that method to cover almost any terrain, including
climbing steps.

Refining RHex technology, Bossa Nova created its toys powered by
alkaline batteries. They include infrared sensors but to interact with
people rather than for movement.

"The technology behind Prime-8 and Penbo previously has been seen in
multi-million dollar research projects," said Sarjoun Skaff, chief
technology officer for Bossa Nova. "To make this kind of technology
available to children is unprecedented, and what we've seen in all our
focus groups is that both kids and adults are impressed by Penbo and
Prime-8's technology and lifelike movements."

The Toy Industry Association Inc. could not be reached for comment on the robot toys and their potential in a tough toy market.

Bossa Nova, with offices in Pittsburgh and Hong Kong, missed the
release date this year to sell its toys through Wal-Mart, Target and
Toys R Us. But the toys will be available on, with plans to
have them available in department and toy stores next year.

Still, the company expects to sell 100,000 copies of each robot this
year, with early indications pointing toward success, said Martin
Hitch, Bossa Nova chief executive officer.

The company says this type of toy is the future. There's nothing
primitive about Prime-8, they claim, referring to the technology.

Toy robot penguin purrs with delight

Prime-8 runs on his arms, stops to sniff whatever's in his way and
even can shoot a plastic rocket at an annoying little sister. Penbo
purrs when she's petted, and plays games with the chirping baby penguin
that hatches from her tummy.

Robots are all the rage this summer as toys from the latest
"Transformers" and "Terminator" movies fill stores, and Carnegie Mellon
University spinoff Bossa Nova Robotics Inc. plans to start selling its
own two playthings with personalities in coming weeks on cable shopping
channel QVC and online retailer

The yellow, gorilla-faced Prime-8 and chubby pink penguin Penbo
showed off their tricks, speed and agility Thursday at an event at the
Oakland campus.

They're the first toys developed with technology from CMU's Robotics
Institute to debut commercially, but others are in the design and
prototype stages.

For consumers, "The most successful application for robots so far is
in the toy business," said John Feghali, one of Bossa Nova's three

Inspired by Furby and other interactive toys, Prime-8 and Penbo use
mechanics adapted from a cockroach-like robot named RHex created
several years ago at CMU.

Both toys walk or run on two rotating limbs, Prime-8 on his arms and Penbo on her legs.

They don't trip on carpet as many toy robots do, their creators say.
And using sensors, they respond to their owners' moves, play games and
dance and fall asleep if they're ignored. Blow a kiss to Penbo, and
she'll kiss back.

Prime-8, geared for boys ages 8 to 12, goes on sale for $99.99 on
QVC on July 25. Penbo, for girls 4 to 6 and costing $69.99, will follow
with her first TV appearance in mid-August. will feature both products starting Aug. 1, and they'll be in stores for the holidays.

Feghali along with Bossa Nova cofounders David Palmer and Sarjoun
Skaff tested their play robots with children at Carnegie Science Center
on the North Shore. The toys will continue to be used there as part of
the Robot Workshop at the science center's new Roboworld, billed as the
world's biggest permanent robotics exhibition.

Feghali, Palmer and Skaff met through CMU, shared a liking for bossa nova music and talked about starting a robotics business.

They decided to make entertaining and educational toys that would be
priced competitively after watching a group of toddlers giggle as RHex
chased them around a campus lawn.

The partners founded their company four years ago, secured money
from several sources including the Pittsburgh Technology Council's
annual EnterPrize contest, and brought in former Mattel, Hasbro and MGA
Entertainment executive Martin Hitch as CEO.

While toy robots undoubtedly are popular with kids, gauging sales isn't easy.

Electronics claimed $865 million of the toy industry's total $21.6
billion in sales last year, but interactive technology is showing up in
lots of classic playthings ranging from dolls to board games. The Japan
Robotics Association forecasts that the market for personal and
lifestyle robots will grow to $15 billion by 2015.

For kids, "Robotic toys are emulating what is happening in everyday
life," said Adrienne Citrin, spokeswoman for the New York-based Toy
Industry Association. Hasbro's iDog works with an iPod, for example.

As to truly interactive toys, industry expert Len Simonian said
advances in technology have cut production costs and made robot
playthings available to more children.

"They're no longer cost-prohibitive. You could make a great toy 10
years ago," he said, but if it retailed for $500 a manufacturer
wouldn't sell many.

Most of the 500 researchers at CMU's Robotics Institute work on
building robots for a variety of tasks including farming, aiding in
surgery and exploring underground mines.

But the center has spawned a few other startup companies that could follow Bossa Nova's path.

Modular Robotics LLC is working on a robotics construction kit
that's something like Lego Mindstorms, but unique because every piece
has a computer inside, research director Mark Gross said.

The company is testing software that includes social networking —
kids will be able to share their creations over the Internet, he said.
The product could be introduced late next year.

And Interbots LLC, creator of the animatronic Quasi robot used at
fairs, is working on software for its first interactive toy and has
completed a second prototype and talked with manufacturers, CEO Seema
Patel said.

"Our goal is to have the little guy on the shelves in time for the Christmas 2010 season," she said.

Article Link

Sunday, July 5, 2009

MyDeskFriend robot penguin links to Facebook

Upstart Arimaz of Switzerland, [] is now busy showing off its MyDeskFriend "Facebook companion" that's set for release this September. The bot is able to mosey about your desk without falling off and react to your voice like any good robot, but its real secret is that it can connect to Facebook and read your messages, or even be controlled (some may say tormented) by your real Facebook friends. Look for it to run $99 when it's released.

Article Link (Engadget)