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Robotic dogs spawn cyber pet menagerie...
February 1, 2001

Robotic dogs spawn cyber pet menagerie

Little did Sony know when it launched its pricey AIBO robo-dogs that it would touch off a robo-animal free-for-all spanning toycos around the globe. More than 25 million units of Poo-Chi have been sold since the economy model from Tiger Electronics first barked onto retail radars in April 2000. Poo-Chi was the number-one selling toy by dollar sales in January, according to the NPD Group’s TRSTS Toy Tracking Service-proving the power of the cyber pet.

New breeds in Tiger’s robot line include the upscale i-Cybie (March debut, SRP US$199.99) and Walking Poo-Chi (fall, US$29.99), joined by interactive bird Chirpy-Chi (spring, US$24.99) and prehistoric pets T-Rex Dino-Chi and pterodactyl Dino-Chi II (both spring, both US$24.99). All Robo-Chis interact, sing duets and react to light, touch and sound.

Giving Robo-Chis a run for the consumer buck this spring are Polly the Tekno Parrot by Manley Toy Quest (US$39.99) and Rap-a-saurus Rex by Trendmasters (US$29.99). Polly features voice learning capability and touch, light and sound sensors: It can repeat everything you say or learn new words to add to its everyday vocabulary. Rap-a-saurus Rex is a robotic dinosaur featuring both sound and motion. It comes complete with keychain remote controller, allowing kids to make Rex walk back and forth and dance to over 30 seconds of sound effects and music.

In July 2001, the cyber pet world will be challenged by an interactive breed of bugs from MGA Entertainment (US$19.99 each). Insecto-bots, geared to kids ages six and up, are a four-SKU line of wireless insects that react to light, sound and touch. And for those who like cyber pets with a more realistic look and feel, MGA will be releasing Monkey See Monkey Do (US$79.99) in August 2001 for kids ages seven and up. The robotic plush monkey features digital recording technology, allowing it to repeat in a silly monkey voice whatever is said to it. (Ed. note: Hide the batteries. . . .)

Cyber pets, meet cyber friends

Personal robots mark the next phase in the evolution of the cyber pet, with both Trendmasters and Tiger Electronics offering their take on the robotic pal.

Johnny Bots, a line of pint-sized, battery-operated robots for kids ages four and up from Trendmasters, kicks off this spring with Johnny AppleBot (US$19.99) and Johnny LittleBot (US$29.99). The line expands fall 2001 with the addition of Johnny ThinkBot (US$49.99), a robotic pal who tells jokes, dances, plays games and can be connected to a PC, and DJ Johnny Bot (US$59.99), a sing-along pal who plays cassette tapes, hooks up to a portable CD player, and comes complete with microphone, DJ scratch disk and sound effects.

Interactive robot Zak 2.2 (US$29.99) also debuts this fall from Tiger. The seven-inch, battery-operated pal reacts to light, sound and touch, and includes a 300-word vocabulary and built-in games. It can also interact with Tiger’s Robo-Chi gang. (Ed. note: Is anyone else having Small Soldiers flashbacks?)

Building block robotics

Sorting Halloween candy will take on a Jetsons feel this year as kids 12 and up design and program a light-sensitive dispenser that sorts candy by color with the Lego Mindstorms Robotics Invention System Version 2.0. For an SRP of US$199.99, kids also gain creative license to build a key-card protected security vault or a robot that draws its own art. Available in September, the 700-piece set will be the Lego Company’s only high-tech toy offering for 2001, as it shifts focus to core product segments and a new action heroes line (see ‘Bionicles battle’ on page 72).

Talkin’ about `i’ generation

For Toy Fair 2001, toycos are tapping into the communications consciousness of kids growing up in the Internet age.

Forget slipping notes in lockers: This month, Toy Biz unveils its revamped high-tech take on the pen pal for kids ages four and up. Built into a working pen, the V+ Mail RF electronic voice mail system allows kids to send messages to friends up to 100 feet away. With an SRP of US$34.99, V+ Mail is available in six translucent colorful designs (think iMac) and includes separate mailboxes to send, receive, save and play back messages. It can also store up to 64 individual PIN numbers.

Capitalizing on kids’ aspirational desire to emulate adult communication, VTech’s OnTrack line will hit retail in spring 2001. Replacing last year’s Whiz Kid line, each OnTrack product offers e-mail capability, a multi-track curriculum, and allows kids to download additional activities from the VTech website. Leading the pack for kids ages seven and up are: Power Zone Pad, a laptop with print capabilities (US$99.99); Power Zone Port, a tabletop computer with a wireless keyboard (US$109.99); and Vapor, a laptop featuring a detachable touch screen, a working mouse and print capabilities (US$79.99 SRP).

High-tech for the licensed set

Along with the originals, toycos will be offering a selection of licensed robotic creatures for 2001, as well as a tamer selection of other high-tech licensed merch.

Hasbro, licensee for Universal Pictures’ and Amblin Entertainment’s Jurassic Park III, will release its Re-Ak A-Tak Animatronic Spinosaurus this June, one month before the film’s July 18 debut. Spinosaurus (US$56.99) is an electronic dinosaur for kids five and up, controlled via sensors hidden on its realistically-styled body.

Mattel, master toy licensee for Nickelodeon and Paramount Picture’s Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, will send Jimmy’s robotic dog, Goddard, barking onto the cyber pet scene in fall 2001. The Deluxe Goddard (US$40 to US$45), aimed at boys six to 12, features remote control operation, spinning head dome (exposing his ‘brain’), and doors on his back that open to secret storage compartments.

Bandai America will power up its Deluxe Quantasaurus Rex Megazord (US$59.99), based on Saban Consumer Products’ Power Rangers franchise, for retail in June 2001. A ‘smart toy’ for kids six to 12, Quantasaurus Rex is controlled by voice activation or a morpher that doubles as a remote control.

Trendmasters, master toy licensee for Miramax/Dimension film Spy Kids, will debut a nine-SKU role play line this spring (US$9.99 to US$19.99) in tandem with the film’s March 30 release. Designed to bring out the super-spy in kids ages four and up, the line includes a realistic-looking Spy Kids Listening Bug that transmits up to 50 feet, Walkie Talkie Sunglasses that double as walkie-talkies, a Spy Kids Watch with Morse code capabilities, a Super Spy Lunchbox, and a Spy Camera disguised as a juice box.

For the preschoolers, Trendmasters will debut Maggie and the Ferocious Beast Adventure Story Time (US$29.99), based on the Nelvana series, in summer 2001. The set, designed for kids two and up, comes with a five-inch plush Maggie and an 11-inch plush Beast. Featuring infrared technology, motorized action and a 60-second voice chip, the Beast carries Maggie on his back to ‘Nowhere Land’ adventures.

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