- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available:

Alive Chimpanzee from WowWee Ltd., stand-alone product requiring four D batteries and one 9-volt battery, $149.99.

It was the coolest, creepiest nightmare-inducing product on display at last year’s American International Toy Fair, and now, as Dr. Frankenstein might emote, “It’s alive.”

The combination of Hollywood special effects and animatronics arrives to curious consumers in the form of a lifelike, full-size chimpanzee bust that has more personality than Furby and requires less care than an IDog.

Psychologists may argue for decades over the damage done in exposing family members to a talking head, but guess what? It’s just too cool for any owner to care.

The simian replicates the vocalizations and movements of its wild brethren and can follow a sound; act curious, happy, fearful or feisty; and interact with admirers who pet it. It has realistic skin, hair, teeth and fully animated features to make it a perfect choice to star in a “Night Gallery” episode.

The technological magic behind the beast includes an infrared vision system; touch sensors in its chin, head and ears; stereo sound sensors; and eight motors that control the movement of its head, eyes, mouth, upper lip, eyelids and eyebrows.

Using a hefty wireless controller with two toggle switches, two joysticks and eight buttons, the owner can enact four modes to directly control the chimp, program up to 20 sequences for it to perform, place it in guard mode to warn of an intruder or simply make it come to life and, depending on the mood, react to the environment.

The bust includes an AC/DC adapter so the chimp can keep blinking, snarling, nipping, nodding and keeping my wife out of my office 24 hours a day.

I can see a real niche market for this affordable design in pop-culture realms. Why not create an animatronic bust of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein or Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator or, better yet, a personalized likeness of the owner that also comes with audio snippets of the person’s voice?

Eye Toy: Kinetic from Sony for PlayStation 2, rated E: Content suitable for ages 6 and older, $49.99.

Parents who overindulged during the holidays have the chance to lose their extra pounds with the help of their children’s video-game console.

Sony’s Eye Toy peripheral, a camera that puts a player into the video game where body parts are used to interact and enact on-screen action, does the trick along with a software fitness simulation.

The Kinetic exercise system offers the perfect extension to the Eye Toy technology as it forces a player to move within a 12-week training program of varied difficulty levels, guided by enthusiastic personal trainers Anna and Matt, who motivate the player to burn calories and tone his or her body.

Players first focus the camera, now with a wide-angle lens (no kidding), on themselves as they magically appear on the television screen. Front lighting works best, and standing about five feet from the camera will perfectly capture every reason why the person is exercising.

After creating a statistics profile (no lying on the weight question), including taking a still image for the “before” picture, the player can choose from about 30 pulse-pounding songs and work out along with the trainers.

The 22 regimens fall under the categories of Cardio, Combat, Mind and Body, and Toning and incorporate the likes of tai chi kickboxing, aerobics, yoga and modern dance as the person interacts in a dance studio, dojo, loft or Zen garden.

The challenges really elevate the heart rate and include touching and avoiding multicolored orbs, destroying walls that appear on the screen, breaking beams of light using legs and arms, and doing traditional sit-ups. The trainers keep track of progress and are aware of any laziness or session-skipping that may occur.

Of course, before beginning any exercise routine, players should get a health checkup. Unfortunately, Kinetic does not provide a virtual doctor, and players will have to lose precious hours of their lives in real waiting rooms before enjoying this slick exercise program.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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