- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

A new wave of miniature interactive creatures have invaded toy store shelves recently that combine technology with humor to give their owners an entertaining companion anytime.

Here’s a look at some of the strangest:

• MicroPets from TOMY, includes two LR44 batteries, for ages 5 and older, $6.99.

The world’s smallest interactive pets, according to Guinness World Records, return through a release of a fourth series of miniature friends that not only respond to vocal commands but a touch on the head.

These roughly 1-inch-tall dogs, cats, rodents and horses with cute names such as Nut, Mika and Guss come in a translucent container with an illustrated backdrop that also acts as a cage for extended sleep times.

After removing the clear plastic strip from the creatures and touching a button on the top of their noggins, the pets chirp, tweet and buzz out a song as the ears flap, either eyes or cheeks light up, and rollers under the torso move them around.

TOMY’s Voice Response System allows them to acknowledge around 18 different instructions that include “run,” “walk” and “turn around.”

If you clap your hands five times in a row, they sing. Of course, the pets really do not respond to words but rather sounds and length of syllables that are captured by a tiny microphone and transferred into actions.

However, it is still quite a sight to call the toy’s name, have it light up and then perform a simple task.

MicroPets also make quite an impressive display, especially when a group of them get together to chat. Thankfully, the same button that turns them on can also be used to put them to sleep as they snore a loud good night.

• “Aquapet” from Wild Planet, includes two AAA batteries for ages 5 and older, $9.99.

Living happily afloat in a 2-inch-tall liquid-filled chamber, these three-dimensional bulbous buddies with dangling limbs require a bit more attention than the MicroPets but reward owners with games, dances and by interacting with brethren.

Owners need to feed, pet and talk to the grape-sized creature to make it happy. Feeding and petting are accomplished by pressing buttons on the sides of the base that holds the chamber.

When an Aquapet is especially thrilled with life, it will sing a little tune and dance from side to side, which also signals it might want to play a game.

The challenge involves pressing the feed and pet buttons in unison to the creature’s dancing motions to succeed, which sounds a lot easier than can be accomplished with the fickle fellow.

The magic behind the Aquapet comes from a microphone inside its base that receives a sound and converts it into electrical signals. The signals deliver information to a microchip that lets it know it is being spoken to.

The microchip will then determine how the character will react and will essentially determine the character’s mood in response to the surrounding noises.

As for feeding it, the chip actually remembers how many times the Aquapet has been fed over a certain time period. So, if the owner overfeeds the Aquapet, it will respond less favorably by making a grumbly sound and swaying.

• “P-Brains” from Uncle Milton, includes one LR44 batteries for ages 5 and older, $9.99.

The least interactive of the bunch reviewed, but definitely the strangest, are a group of action figures with swappable cranial matter.

The 3-inch tall cartoony characterizations of a soldier, skateboarder and baby, each spit out 18 phrases when the tops of their exposed, squishy brains are pressed. However, the fun really starts when Junior plucks out a character’s brain and replaces it with another.

For example, switching the baby’s brain with the soldier brain, the soldier brain now recognizes it is in the baby’s body. The soldier’s personality is now heard through the baby with a phrase like “my diaper is locked and loaded.”

The P-Brain’s “squishtronics” technology does the trick, thanks to a primary circuit board (PCB) that contains microelectronic components and the IC chip that stores the personality.

Additionally, figures also have a secondary PCB in the body, which provides brain/body recognition. So when an owner connects any Series 1 Brain into any Series 1 Body brain port, the brain and body instantly recognize one another.

The P-Brains may not astound scientists as MIT, but I guarantee a room full of giggles at a character’s often scatological and sophomoric antics.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washington times.com).



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