WowWee’s Roboquad Shows Its Geeky Roots

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GeekcakeGeekcakeForget remote controlled rollers, RC walkers are the new wave. The Wowwee Roboquad is one of the latest to hit the shelves. The robot has a unique body shape; WowWee calls it a “true robotic arthropod” and to me it seems like some mythological creature with a dog head on a four-legged crab body. But while super cool, its body plays second fiddle to sensors and programming.

The Roboquad’s head features two big eyes that serve as IR sensors that sense movement and obstacles. In addition, the robot senses sounds. Those two combined allow Roboquad to quickly ascertain both room architecture and also react to people and pets moving in the vicinity. You can even set it to “guard mode” where it turns to the source of movement and emits a warning noise.

One of the coolest aspects of Roboquad is that it is more than just a remote controlled toy that moves around. Almost every setting has four levels of complexity, including behaviors, so there is a distinct and very satisfying learning curve in figuring out the controls. Plus, there are so many options it’ll take you a long time to get explore them all. You can even play with its personality, increasing or decreasing its aggression and activity levels. It is programmable with up to 40 moves or you can employ one of 72 pre-set functions.

Hacking the Roboquad. You know you want to know. The good news is that Mark Tilden invented it. A former BEAM experimenter, he knows what hackers want to see when they open up a casing. Apparently he clearly labels various components to aid in tinkering. There is even, according to internet whispers, a mysterious unused connector on Roboquad’s PCB labeled “TRY ME.” How much more of an invitation do you need?

WowWee customers already have a fanastic, unofficial hacking subculture, thanks primarily to previous Tilden-invented hits RoboSapien and Roboraptor. So it’s no surprise that a whole passel of geeks broke into their Roboquads early on and began tinkering. One guy swapped in new LEDs. Another guy mounted a video cam on his Roboquad’s head and can control it anywhere in the world via Skype. Noting that the controllers’ use of a single IR frequency prevented using multiple Roboquads in the same room, some hackers have proposed hacking both the controller and the robot to operate on 56mHz rather than the standard 38 mHz.

Geek-invented and hacker-friendly, but also fun for your typical kid to play with. Not a bad combination.

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