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Battle of the CES Robots-- Part 2: WowWee, Mech RC, AnyBots, Novint

Here are some more robots for your viewing pleasure. The WowWee line up of family-friendly robots is truly amazing. Check out this short video overview. I had a chance to see the Robosapien in action too (play short video).

But I am not so sure the RoboSapien has anything on what I saw at the Mech RC booth—the most agile and programmable robot yet. The Mech RC can dance, jump, and even lift itself up if it falls. It comes with a remote and PC software that lets you create new moves out of macros of very finite movements of each robot body part. Unfortunately, the Mech RC folks are still looking for a retail partner in the U.S. so we will have to wait to see this one at BestBuy.

For a mere $39.99, I could see my daughters enjoying WowWee’s flying Tinkerbell. But what caught my eye was WowWee’s version of iRobot’s ConnectR robot- the $299.99 Rovio (play video). It performs pretty much the same functions as the ConnectR, but with a sleeker non-vacuum looking design. I would have to see them both in action to recommend one however, since battery life, range, video/voice quality and durability should all factor into the decision to buy.


If you want a top of the line “virtual presence” robot and have the means to drop about $30,000, then the only choice for you is AnyBots’ QA robot (view CES unveiling presentation). QA has the added benefit of being off the floor for a birds-eye view and has a screen so folks can also see you remotely, rather than just hear you. AnyBots is marketing QA to the corporate market as a sort of advanced video conferencing alternative, but I also see strong possibilities in the security monitoring, retail customer service, and high-end hotel concierge markets.

One final psuedo-robot worth taking a look at: Novint's Falcon. While most robots are still learning to dance, sing, or virtually interact with people via the Internet, attention to one of the five human senses has been mostly lacking until now-- the sense of touch. Sure, there are various "biofeedback" game controllers. Most of them provide vibration or recoil during shooting or racing games, and while they add dimension to play, they are pretty gimicky. Novint's Falcon adds a level of realism and sensitivity to the experience that is almost scary. I sat down with the Falcon. At first glance it looked pretty clunky and I was wondering who gave Novint their funding. But then I became a believer. The sense of swinging a ball or touching a rough or sandpapery surface in a virtual world was true to life. If I closed my eyes it felt like my own hand was performing these actions-- I felt it in my hands and my fingers. The final coup however was when I extended my virtual hand behind a surface and could feel my way around without "looking", a feat no ordinary game controller could accomplish. The Falcon will find a ready audience in the gaming world and probably also in the scientific and medical realms as well. They don't do justice to the device, but these videos give you some more context from Novint's CEO:

>Novint Falcon 1

; Novint Falcon 2.

It was good to see lots of attention to both mass-market and high-end robotic technology at CES. This space will continue to evolve and find new ways to help or amuse us at home or at work.

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