Technology Reviews

By Ron Brownlow  /  STAFF REPORTER

Thu, Jan 25, 2007 - Page 14

It keeps watch in front of your bedroom. If it falls on its back its legs lift it straight up again. It has four personalities, including an English butler and another that talks like a cowboy. A schizophrenic ninja? No, this is the Robosapien RS Media, a half-meter high robot that "sees, hears and even speaks!"

WowWee Robotics' Robosapien RS Media can be programmed to pick up and throw objects, dance, wave its arms and lie down. He talks to you with a vocabulary of 160 unique phrases. His head-mounted infrared sensor tracks movement and recognizes colors. This is the kind of toy that inspires children to throw tantrums and refuse solid food until their parents buy them one.

As advances in technology have made gadgets more affordable and user-friendly, children of all ages are expecting more from their toys. They want increasingly realistic robots they can program and command, toys that interface with their media devices, and cameras that actually take pictures and record video. Here's a sample of hi-tech toys that are certain to remain popular through the Lunar New Year.

Robosapien RS Media

At half a meter in height, Robosapien RS Media stands nearly at eye-level with a small child. It comes with four personalities, including Billy Joe, the Texas cowboy, Service Bot, the butler, and Space Bot, "a robotic hero committed to peace, justice and alien extermination." Wave your hand in front of his face, and he expresses alarm or makes a sarcastic comment.

Users can also create their own personalities, store them on SD memory cards, and swap them via the SC card slot on the robot's back. RS Media's color LCD screen offers a view of what the robot is seeing and recording through its head-mounted camera. It can also display an image or MPEG4 video stored on the SD-Card. Its USB port allows you to upload songs from an MP3 player for playback via the 11-watt stereo speakers in its hands and a subwoofer on its back.

Robosapien RS Media has been heralded as the most sophisticated toy robot on the market. It can stand guard in front of a room and won't budge until it detects movement. It can recognize different people and reacts to them in different ways. You can move the robot's limbs by hand or via its remote control and store the motion on its 1GB SD card. You can also record your own voice onto an SD card. All of this information can then be manipulated and tied together on a PC through the robot's BodyCon software package, in effect turning the user into a puppet master.

The first Robosapien model sold more than 2 million units worldwide over two years, including 8,000 in Taiwan. The RS Media has already sold 1,000 of the new units here. It's priced at NT$17,999 and is available at Toys'R Us, Shilin Electric (士林電機), and some department stores.

miFlower

You've probably seen solar-powered artificial plants in the window of your local toy store recently, the ones with flowers or leaves that rock back and forth at an incessant but somehow relaxing pace. Take one of these, add a speaker, an electronic face and a connection for a portable music device, and you get miFlower.

Connect miFlower to an MP3 player and it comes alive. Its leaves sway, its LCD face displays a variety of emotions, and its six LED-lit petals light up in different patterns, depending on what kind of music it's playing. Put on a soft ballad and miFlower sways gently. Play hard rock and it jerks back and forth. MiFlower will also smile if you interact with it, or complain if you ignore it.

Aside from this feature, miFlower is essentially a glorified clock radio. Don't expect great sound quality. It's powered by four AA batteries and costs NT$1,299. Available at Toys 'R Us, Tsann Kuen 3C (台灣燦坤3C) electronics stores, and some department stores.

Movie Carrier

If you want a simple, easy-to-use camcorder or if you want your child to get an early start on her directing career, Sega Toy's Movie Carrier is for you. It looks like a toy, but it records full-motion video. Measuring 86mm in length, 40mm in width and 68mm in height, the Movie Carrier is small and fits easily into a child's hand. It comes with a 4x zoom, a 1.5-inch flipout monitor, an SD slot and TV outputs. It records 320x240 resolution video or takes pictures in AVI or JPEG formats onto an SD card. While this toyish camcorder doesn't offer the bells and whistles a grown-up model would, it will keep your children entertained and prevent them from asking to use your camcorder. NT$4,399 and on sale at Tsann Kuen 3C and Shilin Electric.

Homestar Pro

This gray sphere turns your bedroom into a planetarium. Using the same lens that commercial models use, it can project more than 10,000 stars and shows real constellations. As the successor to Sega Toy's Homestar (with retailed for NT$6,899), the Homestar Pro is three-times brighter than the original. It can rotate the sky in slow motion, produce random shooting stars, and focus to project sharper images. If you live in Taipei, it's safe to say this will reproduce a more realistic and clearer night sky in your home than anything you'd ever see outside. And at NT$10,980, it's cheaper than a trip to New Zealand. Operates via an AC adapter. Available at Shilin Electric.

Remote-control Dragonfly

This last toy is the simplest, but in a way the coolest gadget on this list. It's a radio-controlled dragonfly that flaps its wings like a real insect. Plug this bug into its battery-powered control unit for one minute and you get 12 minutes of flying time. That's pretty much all there is to it, except that since the dragonfly depends on air currents for lift, it has to move fast to stay airborne and can't bank steeply up or down. You need to take it to a large park; try to fly it indoors and it will bump into walls and fall down. NT$1,980 and available at Toys 'R Us, Tsann Kuen 3C and some department stores.