Much to my delight, I received an i-SOBOT for Christmas this year. My very own GeekDad had this shipped to me with the caveat that, while the grandchildren were allowed to play with it, this gift was actually for me and me alone. He understands a great geek gift when he sees one! (Thanks, Dad!)
As GeekDad Contributor, Anton Olsen, reported last week, the i-SOBOT was named the 2008 Robot of the Year by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. This award was created in 2006 to help stimulate the development and commercial application of robots in a variety of industries. The i-SOBOT received this honor due to its advanced technology, high entertainment value, and reasonable price.
Standing at 6.5 inches tall, the Guinness Book of World Records has recognized the i-SOBOT as the "smallest humanoid robot in production." But this small package is programmed with over 200 movements, including the ability to do somersaults, balance on one leg, and return to a full standing position from lying on either its back or face.
Another thing the i-SOBOT does well is walk. Really walk. Not just shuffle like many other robot toys. To do this though, it must operate on a smooth surface like a wood floor or on a table top. It can move over low-pile carpet, just not as well.
This pint-sized robot comes loaded with 17 servos for movement and gyros for stabilization. These can eat battery power in a rather short amount of time. Fortunately, it comes with three rechargeable AAA batteries and a Sanyo eneloop battery charger. The battery compartment is located in the i-SOBOT’s chest plate and requires a small Phillips screwdriver (not included) for access. Due to the frequency of battery changes, the battery compartment could have been designed for easier access. Since it can take up to six hours for the batteries to charge, users may want to consider purchasing a second set of rechargeable batteries for longer play time.
The i-SOBOT can be operated in four modes: Remote Control, Program, Special Action and Voice Command. It is controlled by an infrared remote, which means the controller must be used line-of-site. The controller takes three AA batteries (not included.) The controller must be used for all input as the i-SOBOT does not have the ability to act autonomously. An Action Card lists the myriad of pre-programmed commands, including the performance of a Western movie shoot-out, and various martial arts and Tai Chi moves. It can even deliver a spiel touting its many features.
There are many other sounds and recorded speeches which the i-SOBOT can play back. Unfortunately, it does not have a volume control. As any parent can tell you, all toys must include a volume control,
or at least a mute button.* (Seriously, toy manufacturers, you really need to do this!)
Takara Tomy has released 150,000 of these units to the US market. They are being sold by several vendors, including Amazon, Trossen and Hammacher Schlemmer. Several of these vendors have discounted the i-SOBOT from an initially announced list price of around $300 USD, to under $100.
WIRED Very little assembly required. Is programmed with a ton of movements, poses and sounds. It can do somersaults, balance, and return to a standing position. Comes with rechargeable batteries and charger. Many sellers have discounted the price to under $100 USD.
TIRED No autonomous mode. Requires a screwdriver to access the battery compartment. Moves well only on smooth surfaces. Has no volume control.
*CLARIFICATION The i-SOBOT does have a mute function to toggle voice and/or sound effects. What it lacks is a way to turn down the volume. It is either on or off.