- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

NEW YORK - Mark W. Tilden offered a great reason for children to get a science education at this year’s American International Toy Fair, held last week in New York.

“So they can build cool robots for world domination,” said the father of BEAM (Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics and Mechanics) Robotics and former Los Alamos National Labs scientist. He displayed the Robosapien at the Wow Wee Inc. showroom, hoping to persuade buyers to purchase mass quantities of his 14-inch buddy.

“I tried to save the world but found out there’s no money in it,” he said, laughing. “I spent seven years building stuff for NASA, and they crashed it on Mars. And the problem with sending robots to Mars is there are no kids there.”

So he developed an upright biped walker based on neuromorphic building techniques that use seven motors and three AAA carbon batteries for six hours of constant use. The energy-efficient unit gets its efficiency thanks to a design in which every motion is matched with an equal motion on the creature’s other half. Also, the motors take on the role of generator.

Available this spring, the Robosapien will cost about $90. It can perform 67 preprogrammed movements, enacted via a hand-held controller, including some kung-fu and dance moves. The robot also has an infrared receiving mechanism so owners will be able to program it to perform a list of tasks for their amusement or discover its secrets by hacking into the unit using a personal digital assistant.

In addition to the Robosapien, companies at the Toy Fair displayed a wide range of products combining technology with fun. Here are some of the best seen at the four-day event:

mUncle Milton Industries debuted some clever gray matter with the P-Brains line of action figures. These 3-inch-tall talking dolls use interchangeable brains to inspire belly laughs in the younger child with a gruesome sense of humor. The two-figure packs give owners the chance to switch the neural networks of a teacher and skateboarder or soldier and baby to hear personalities transposed but voice inflections remain the same.

• DC Comics’ Dark Knight gets a new animated show this fall, “The Batman,” and a high-tech action-figure line from Mattel. Using VEIL (Video Encoded Invisible Light) technology, 6-inch doll and 12-inch Batmobile use a detachable device with an LCD screen to interact with and download content from the new cartoon. Junior can watch an episode and, as the Batmobile starts up on-screen, his vehicle will, too. When Batman battles a foe, the emblem on the off-screen version will glow, and he can fight the foe via a short video game downloaded to the hand-held Batpack.

mMore television interaction arrives in July with Fisher-Price’s InteracTV. The size of a George Foreman Grill, this educational device works when a child puts the supplied DVD into a home entertainment center, which plays an episode from children’s TV shows, including “Blue’s Clues,” “Dora the Explorer,” “Sesame Street” and “SpongeBob SquarePants.” The user then places one of three activity cards into the unit, and with the help of wireless technology, answers questions designed on the show by pressing corresponding icons displayed on the card graphics.

• The game of tag becomes a live video game with Hasbro’s Lazer Tag Team OPS. Coming this fall, the set features an infrared weapons system to tag opponents and provides audio and visual confirmation whenever an enemy has been hit or locked on. The laser gun uses an LCD screen to display individual and team statistics, and the headset looks like a “Terminator”-style targeting system with lighted eyepiece that can accommodate a two-way communications device (sold separately) to contact team members or spy during the heated action. Up to three teams of eight players can take part in 11 preprogrammed games, with an additional eight customizable game options.

• They may look like tiny, see-through building blocks, but when connected using color-by-number-like diagrams found in cyberspace, they become part of a masterpiece. PixelBlocks (www.pixelblocks.com) boast a 20-color translucent palette that gives builders the ability to design 2-D and 3-D works of art. At the company’s Web site, the Digital Stained Glass Creator allows users to upload an image of a friend or loved one, and then the creator generates a mosaic map PDF for use in making a unique portrait suitable for framing in a window with plenty of sunlight. The site also offers bulk block purchase in specific colors to match the ones needed for that unique piece of handmade art.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected]washington times.com).

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