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UIT takes AI into the home with Message Buddies

Computer interaction is about to get a whole lot noisier with United Internet Technologies unveiling its line of animatronic, talking Instant Message Buddies this month. The first two SKUs of 'brilliant toys' - nine-inch licensed Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck plush figures - are designed to sit atop one's computer and repeat one of 150 phrases when triggered by instant messaging programs. The toys, which sell for US$19.95 each, are debuting now at most major toy stores after a month-long AOL e-tail exclusive.
January 8, 2003

Computer interaction is about to get a whole lot noisier with United Internet Technologies unveiling its line of animatronic, talking Instant Message Buddies this month. The first two SKUs of ‘brilliant toys’ – nine-inch licensed Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck plush figures – are designed to sit atop one’s computer and repeat one of 150 phrases when triggered by instant messaging programs. The toys, which sell for US$19.95 each, are debuting now at most major toy stores after a month-long AOL e-tail exclusive.

Not only do Instant Message Buddies talk through IM, but audio and movement triggers are digitally embedded in games that kids can find on AOL’s Kids Only Channel, including the memory game Music Madness and a scrambled tile game called Slider Puzzle. True to their irreverent characters, the Bugs and Daffy Buddies will cheer you on if you play well, and razz you a bit if you mess up.

L.A.-based UIT is in the midst of negotiating with several major software manufacturers to add triggers to more games starting in March. And before the end of the year, the company plans to have between six and eight more Instant Message Buddies in stores (including a Terminator endoskeletal head), featuring different levels of sophistication and ranging up to US$69 for characters that stop just short of walking as far as independent mobility goes.

There will be some licensed characters with restricted vocabulary, but also generic characters that can say anything. The second generation of toys will be wireless and connected to an Internet database that can store demographic data about the owner. This will enable the Instant Message Buddies to actually grow with their user, so the toy will interact differently with an eight-year-old than it will with a 20-year-old.

‘The toy is dumb, but it has the power and depth of the Internet behind it, so it can be as smart as you want it to be,’ says UIT president Brian Shuster. ‘They’ll know your likes and dislikes, when you like to get up in the morning, when you go to sleep, and what you want to do in a day.’

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