Robotic Pals and Pets Debut

LOS ANGELES (05/15/2000) - Always wanted your own robot? Now you can have one--cheap. It may not clean the house or wash the car in Jetsonian fashion, but it'll keep you company and entertain guests.

Tiger Electronics Inc., a division of Hasbro Inc., introduced its Poo-Chi interactive puppy at the Electronic Entertainment Expo here this week. It's based on the biorhythmic response that made Furby appealing (if a little frightening). This dog won't hunt, but it will sing, dance, snore, and react to light, sound, and touch.

The Poo-Chi will cost less than $30, says Marc Rosenberg, vice president of corporate communications at Hasbro.

"We think that it's really important to have a price point that makes a product readily available," he says.

The price made the Poo-Chi a hot item when it was introduced in Japan in April--more than 100,000 of the critters sold in the first three hours they were available. Not only does the pup react to your touch, like the Furby, it thrives under it. It will also interact with other Poo-Chis that it sees.

"They'll sing songs back and forth and can even scare each other," Rosenberg says.

Our Digital Dog Run

We took a couple of the digital doggies for a test run (well, a test sit, because they don't move except to stand up, sit down, and dance to bark-eoke).

We enjoyed the pets. Our Poo-Chis sang with each other at first, but then one of them got mad and growled at the other--who backed down in deference. They aren't very mobile and require a lot of attention--but that's the point, right?

It was easy to see why those six-figure sales tallies will most likely be repeated here in the states.

On the higher end of the price range for robots, but still costing much less than a Terminator, is the Vision Command from Lego MindStorms. It also made its debut at E3, and is priced at $99.99.

Vision Command works as a stand-alone camera--for Web conferencing, video recording, and so on--but it also responds to motion, light, and color, says Carol Spelman, a producer at Lego MindStorms.

The Vision Command can be programmed to play musical instruments, including synthesized guitars and drums. It can also watch for and record intruders that it "sees." You can combine it with Lego MindStorms' $199 Robotics Invention System, which provides mobility to its sight. Then, the Vision Command robot can follow you around the room or even play ball.

"It will see which way the ball is coming and then push it away," Spelman says.

Once you've given the Vision Command wheels, it can be programmed to track objects or explore on its own, while you watch its progress from your PC.

Both Lego products are fully backward compatible with any Lego sets now on the market. You can incorporate them into any block-based creation you assemble.

So who cares that these robotic pets aren't housekeepers? At least they're not house wreckers.

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