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Robotics toys get very intelligent.

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July 25, 2005

Robotics toys get very intelligent.

Robotics toys get very intelligent.

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July 26, 2005 As computer chips get more powerful and cheaper at an exponential rate, we’re going to see toys, cars, shoes, hats and even door knobs becoming surprisingly intelligent. How intelligent? Meet Amazing Amanda. Amanda is a 21” interactive doll that utilises voice recognition, sensory technology and articulated animatronics, so she can play the role of a baby girl more authentically than you’d have thought possible. Like a real toddler, Amanda can show the whole gamut of human emotions including laughing and crying and after an initial five minute bonding session (AKA voice recognition induction session) she even recognises her own ‘mother’s’ voice and responds differently to mum compared with strangers! Amanda can talk, respond to questions and loves to play games and sing songs! She interacts with her food, potty and hair accessories, knows when she is being fed, having her hair brushed and can be programmed to wake at the same time every morning to act as a pseudo alarm clock. She remembers mothers day, birthdays and through realistic animatronics, shows her feelings in her facial movements and voice responses. Does this sound like science fiction? Amazing Amanda hits the shelves in the US, UK and Australia next month with a retail price in the vicinity of US$100.

Naturally enough, there’s quite a bit of debate going on at the moment regarding whether having intelligent toys will enhance the way children play or blunt their imaginations. We’re coming down heavily on the enhancement side of things, and we believe that Amanda’s capabilities are just the beginning and over the next decade we’ll see new toys with capabilities to interact and teach more consistently, more patiently and as lovingly as the most devoted parents. Ultimately, there is every reason to expect that the interaction with toys will be equally as sophisticated as the interaction with computer consoles and computer games – compelling, challenging and more than capable of developing skills and solid values (and vice verca).

Toys that know where they are, that can recognise and respond to people and their environment will logically capture the imagination of the child far more readily than an inert object and the limit of Amanda’s capabilities will not limit the nature of the interaction.

Amanda has seven areas where she senses the surroundings and responds appropriately – her right hand, her hair, her mouth, a microphone sensor (so she can “hear” those around her), a hug sensor on her chest, a “clothing sensor” (so she knows what clothes she is being dressed in) and a potty sensor. This yields a rich and diverse range of interactions for the five to ten year target audience.

As you go through the prompts in the start-up Routine, you’ll see that time is a very important feature. Amanda needs to know the time so that she can schedule activities, know when it’s time to go to bed – and know when it’s Christmas, New Year, or Mother’s Day!

As Amanda is based on a microchip, she has no problem adjusting herself for Daylight Savings Time and recognizing what time of the day it is.

Amanda uses time to prompt various activities throughout the day: from the moment she wakes you up, she may ask you to feed her at breakfast time (anytime from 8am to 11am), or she might be hungry for lunch anytime from noon to 4pm. Dinner may be required any time from 5pm to midnight and in between meals, she may get hungry for a snack (anytime) or have to go potty (anytime).

One of the aspects that make the doll so “Amazing” is the integration of voice and speech recognition, sensor technology that allows object recognition and articulated, emotionally expressive animatronics. The special way that Amanda responds to her Mummy and those around her provides an authentic and unique nurturing friendship experience.

For instance, if her mummy asks, “are you hungry?”, Amanda will respond with words, sounds and expressions to indicate if and what she wants to eat! Just like a real toddler, when Amanda receives something she doesn’t want she lets you know about it simulating the closest thing to a real mother and child interactive experience.

Amazing Amanda is manufactured and distributed by PlayMate Toys, and is distributed in the UK by eVivid and in Australia by Funtastic.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
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