The Amazing Robotic World of Bossa Nova

Geek Culture


On July 9, Bossa Nova Robotics unveiled the initial two releases from their line of “personal entertainment” robotics. Prime-8, further evidence of author Chris Roberson’s insightful axiom that “everything is improved by the judicious application of primates,” hits the market first. Unlike previous toy robots, the 12″ tall, yellow ape uses specially-designed robotic arms and legs to “knuckle-run” at high speeds. The gorilla’s personality transforms from serene, friendly, and blue-eyed to a crazy, beating the floor, roaring simian. When he gets really pissed off, the ape rips a loud, obnoxious fart. In “Guard” mode he shoots rubber tipped missiles at intruders (perfect against little sisters). The robot receives commands through a video-game style remote. Two users can even engage their individual ‘bots in combat! Intended for ages 8-12, the Prime-8 retails for $99.99.

On the other end of the gender spectrum, Penbo, a penguin covered with pink fur waddles, flaps its tiny wings, and makes cooing sounds. She lays an egg that hatches into a baby, Bebe. Offspring come in four different colors, each with its own unique personality . When the baby rests within the Penbo’s pouch, they sing to each other while the mother joyfully dances. The mother and child converse in their own Penguish language. Penbo plays six different games with the user including tag, hide-and-seek, and peek-a-boo. Two Penbos or Bebes brought together will talk and sing to each other. The adorable Penbo, suggested for ages 4-6, sells for $69.99.

Prime-8 premieres on QVC on July 25 and Penbo in mid-August. Both robots will be available via Amazon on August 1. Each toy requires AA batteries.


These two radically different toys derived from a similar robotic ancestry. Inspired by the video “Cockroach on a Fractal Surface,” Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) scientists created RHex, the smallest bipedal robot ever to climb stairs. Bossa Nova’s development brain trust of Sarjoun Skaff and John Feghali used the RHex as the groundwork for the motion technologies used in Prime-8, Penbo, as well as other yet-unannounced Bossa Nova creations. To pare the $20,000 tech to a consumer-friendly cost, the duo reconfigured the RHex mechanics, placing the center of gravity below the hips and devising a pendulum-like effect for motion. This enabled the robot to move quicker and use less energy. Since apes and penguins both have low centers of gravity, the creations naturally evolved into the design choices for the first Bossa Nova toys.

Fittingly enough, Bossa Nova introduced their new designs at the CMU Robotics Institute, the first university program devoted to the development of robots and the birthplace of manypenbo-babiespenbo-babies of the techniques that Skaff and Feghali employ. The third co-founder, COO David Palmer, and entertainment industry veteran CEO Martin Hitch complete the enthusiastic core of Bossa Nova. Skaff’s passionate words when asked about developing these robots, summed up my thoughts exactly about the Prime-8 and Penbo:”This stuff is amazing!”

About guest blogger Rick Klaw

In reality a Geek Uncle, Rick Klaw has supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy (Greenwood), Moving Pictures, RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back! (BenBella), Conversations With Texas Writers(University of Texas)Farscape Forever (BenBella), Electric Velocipede,Cross Plains Universe (FACT/Monkeybrain), and Steampunk(Tachyon). MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century. Along with the real geek dad Mark London Williams, he produces the bi-weekly Nexus Graphica for SF Site. Klaw can often be found pontificating on Twitter and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.

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