- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Here’s a look at a few of the best and brightest gift ideas based on robots or interactive friends.

Cozmo: Collector’s Edition

What is it? A sophisticated robot
Price: $179.99
Gift group: Smart youngsters looking for a “Wall-E”-like pal like to interact with

Santa’s scoop: Robotics and artificial intelligence company Anki packs the very best of both of its specialties into a highly intelligent robot that looks like a toy bobcat bulldozer, complete with rubber tracks, and roughly the size of a coffee cup.

Owners must tether their smart devices (iTunes, Google Play and Amazon Fire compatible) via an app and Cozmo’s Wi-Fi network to fire up his brain before getting the little fellow to recognize a new friend’s face and learn his name.

From there, it’s a plunge into the world of sophisticated virtual pet robotics as Cozmo bubbles with emotion though sounds, music and his expressive pair of glowing blue eyes.


SEE ALSO: Holiday Gift Guide 2017 - Best in entertainment and learning gadgets


He sings, fist bumps, answers questions (family pets will appreciate the animated conversations), pops a wheelie, explores on his own, builds and plays games. By the way, watching him sneeze is nearly worth the price of admission.

Every game or accomplishment leads to not only making the feisty robot smarter but also to collecting various kinds of digital currency (sparks and energy) to further unlock abilities.

Fun features include the explorer mode that allows owners to see through Cosmo’s perspective as he investigates areas.

Also, the inclusion of three interactive power cubes not only feed him through glowing light energy but allows him to play games. Challenges include matching lights or keep away with help from lifting or pushing the cubes with his lift.

Youngsters interested in programming can also use a simple interface on their smart device via the Code Lab to drag and drop icons into a sequence of actions for Cosmo to follow.

The tech magic includes Cozmo running on 1.2 million lines of code (more than used in the Space Shuttle), over 1,000 possible animations, sensors refined enough to know if it’s about to fall off a table and a hidden camera in its mouth that records images at 30 frames per second.

A few caveats to keep in mind. Cozmo uses its own secure Wi-Fi network that will need to stay open with the app during all play sessions. That could be inconvenient if you’re trying to multitask and need an in-home network.

Additionally, Cozmo is a small tough dynamo but could easily get stepped and crushed on if left out on the open floor amid a gift-opening frenzy.

The standard package includes a charging station and blocks (using 1.5 Volt / N size batteries, included), while the Collector’s Edition also offers Cozmo with a liquid metal finish.

Update: Anki is rolling out an even more extensive update to its Code Lab on Dec. 5 that will further allow young coders to easily manipulate the behavior of their Cozmo.

BB-8

What is it? Rey and Poe Dameron’s best robotic friend
Price: $223.99
Gift group: Serious fans of a galaxy far, far, away

Santa’s scoop: Spin Master delivers a near life-size version of the orb-shaped droid (at least for youngsters) that co-starred in the latest “Star Wars” films that looks and acts like it was taken right from Mr. Dameron’s modified X-Wing.

Forget that puny, palm-sized Sphero model of BB-8, this guy rolls around at 14 inches tall and will make Padawan’s eyes double in size at his antics.

Authentic sound effects have him chirping and whirring as he interacts with the owner through three modes — radio-controlled, follow me and voice command.

Radio-controlled uses the included remote (three AAA batteries required) to move him around via dual toggle levers. Click the main button, and he makes friendly droid sounds.

Voice command offers a dozen directives that BB-8 responds to, including “go to sleep” and the amusing “stormtroopers” that will cause it to chirp out in distress.

Now, the coolest mode has the owner clip the remote to a belt or pocket, set “follow me” and BB-8 will stick by his side. I highly recommend not walking down stairs. Of course, the droid does not have a jetpack or propulsion system.

Best tips for parents include making sure the head and body are fully charged (separate cords are included for each section), reading how to set the remote and head to communicate, and making sure BB-8 has plenty of flat surface to roll around.

Those steps should guarantee maximum entertainment value from this near-perfect recreation of a budding icon of the “Star Wars” universe.

Spider-Man

What is it? Stan Lee’s favorite interactive web slinger
Price: $149.99
Gift group: Youngsters wanting to hang out with Marvel Comics’ awkward but very cool superhero

Santa’s scoop: Robotics and digital technology company Sphero delivers one of its coolest creations to date with an 8.5-inch-tall, very chatty and interactive version of Peter Parker’s alter ego.

With a very tactile, soft silicon covering, the figure features a big-headed Spider-Man (think a Funko figure) in a traditional red-and-blue costume with black web shooters on his wrists.

An owner downloads the app and chooses a heroic nickname such as Scarlet Patriot and a power such as laser missile, and Spidey will now recognize him when entering a room and offer more chatter or even some music to set the mood.

The figure has high-resolution color LCD eyes, motion-activated sensors, a microphone, speech-recognition technology, and a surprisingly loud and clear speaker.

Using the downloadable app (iOS and Android compatible) or voice commands combined with pressing a glowing logo on his chest, the owner can turn the figure into a motion detector with attitude, an annoying alarm clock and a pretty funny comedian.

Ask him to tell a joke (he’s got 100 of them), and he may offer, “If Iron Man and Silver Surfer teamed up, they would be alloys.” Get it crime fighter?

Also, ask him to tell one of 20 stories, and he’ll go into an extensive adventure with sound effects featuring, for example, stopping a pair of muggers attacking an old woman, but he had a bit of trouble with his webbing.

Spidey will even virtually work with the owner to fight some bad guys, by requiring moving with the figure during around 30 short vignettes or simply answer questions (do you know Peter Parker?).

He has a very friendly, young teenager voice with a bit of self-deprecating banter when he talks and a prepubescent timbre.

Charge Spidey on the included, web-shaped, circular USB-connected base and get about two hours of fun with the legend.

Just to add some more high-tech magic, Spidey can watch the latest Spider-Man cartoon on Disney XD and will react to onscreen action.

Overall, Sphero delivers a true masterpiece of interactivity sure to thrill gift receivers of all ages, as Spider-Man comes to life through his expansive dialogue and antics.

Princess Belle

What is it? An interactive dance partner that requires four AA batteries
Price: $99.99
Gift group: Youngsters and older children who love certain Disney royalty

Santa’s scoop: Hasbro’s initial release to its Dance Code line offers Disney’s famed beauty from “Beauty and Beast” in a 12-inch doll dressed to be the Belle of the ball.

Belle, with soft hair, wears a more intricate reproduction of the 1991 cartoon’s gold gown, now with some added rose petals and rose designs. A necklace embedded in her chest glows multiple colors and acts as button to initiate her magic.

Through 100 phrases and seven songs, Belle can teach dances as her arms, head and body move to orchestral music and songs from the film. Kids can even hold her small, gloved hands and move with her.

Although this will mesmerize the 5-year-old in the family, some of Belle’s dance moves will remind adults of Elaine Benis hoofing it in the “Seinfeld” television show.

An app extends the action, and through a few games — such as connecting the dots and tracing objects — it allows children to actually choreograph dance sequences for Belle to perform using a simple drag-and-drop interface and a selection of a dozen moves.

That’s takes Belle to a much more exciting level with plenty of replay value for the new owner.

Hatchimals Surprise

What is it? A robotic pet
Price: $69.99 (two AA batteries and three LR44 button cells batteries included)
Gift group: Youngsters 5 years and older who are not quite ready for a real pet

Santa’s scoop: Spin Master expands upon one of its most popular tech toy release last year with a 9-inch tall, magical speckled egg that contains a pair of brightly colored, winged and plush interactive creatures with LED eyes.

Owners must first nurture the egg through tapping (they tap back), talking to it, and rubbing as well as cuddling it for roughly 40 minutes in total before one of the creatures literally breaks through the top of the shell and sings “Hatchy Birthday.”

That’s quite a moment for a child to witness, but that’s just the beginning of the Hatchling experience.

Now with two new friends, either a pair of Giraven (mixing a giraffe and a raven) or a Peacat (a peacock melded with a cat), the owner can raise them through three stages of life —baby, toddler and kid.

The twins interact with one another, need fed, burped and loved. They eventually babble, sing, dance, tell each other jokes and can even record up to 3 seconds of a user’s voice (parents should note that a potty-mouthed Hatchimal is possible).

They also play games with the owner such as tag, clapping to silly sound rhythms, matching movements to commands and answering a “yes” or “no” question, all based on lighted eye prompts and music.

Suffice it to report, I predict Hatchimals Surprise will be one of the hotter toys this holiday season with the too-cute factor alone.


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