LAS VEGAS – Looks like it’s time for WowWee to graduate from making robotic toys to making full-fledged consumer robotics. The maker of Robosapien and Roboraptor dipped its toe in the water last year with the release of Robopanda, its first remote-control-less robot. However, with its 2008 lineup, the company is setting its sights on becoming a home-robotics leader.
The company reports that its US product lineup will feature some 15 products, and three new ones are worth noting.
Two years ago at CES 2006, WowWee demonstrated its new two-wheeled P.E.A. (Personality Evolved Robot), the first product of a partnership between WowWee and Segway. Just like Dean Kamen’s Segway human transporter, the roughly 1-foot-tall black and white robot balanced on two wheels. It had two long arms and a screen for a face. Two years later, P.E.A. has returned as “Mr. Personality.” Gone is the two-wheeled balancing act. Instead, this red and silver home-entertainment robot gets around on three wheels set at roughly right angles to each other. What remains is the color LCD face and the robot’s sense of humor.
According to WowWee officials, Mr. Personality’s on-screen face synchronizes with his moods and he can tell jokes, carry on “conversations,” and play games. The robot also comes with sensors that help it navigate its environment (as well as LED lights that, well, look nice). The robot is upgradeable via a SD card slot, though it doesn’t ship with SD card media.
Mr. Personality will ship in late summer of this year for $249.
Telepresence robots could be the automaton buzzword of 2008. iRobot introduced ConnectR in 2007 and now WowWee is unveiling Rovio. Its body is relatively low, flat, and round, and like Mr. Personality, Rovio has a three-wheel system for getting around the home. The Wi-Fi-ready robot features a camera and remote-control access via the Web or any other Wi-Fi-enabled device. Rovio’s autonomous navigation system comes courtesy of the 2006 partnership WowWee forged with Evolution Robotics. Rovio uses Evolution’s “Northstar” navigation system. Known as “in-door: GPS,” Northstar uses sensors embedded on top of Rovio to read coded infrared lights projected on room ceilings. This means that Rovio will likely work with a series of small devices that will have to reside in each room (to project the coded lights overhead). WowWee execs promise that whatever Rovio sees and hears will stream over the Internet to “anywhere in the world.”
Rovio will ship in late summer of this year for $299.
The follow-up to WowWee’s well received FlyTech Dragonfly flying toy is especially interesting because it marries RC-toy technology with a tiny but key bit of robotics. The FlyTech Bladestar is a helicopter-like flying toy (sans the cockpit) that, while working via remote control, also includes a sensor that will help it avoid ceilings and walls. The robot toy is safe for indoor flight as long as you set it to autonomous mode or pilot it with the remote. The company promises Bladestar will be flexible and crash resistant, but, just in case, will ship it with two spare wings and two spare propellers.
Bladestar will ship in February for $49.99, with exclusive availability at Target.