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Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012
Cyborg teddy bears, telephonic androids, USB missiles set to stun
By RICK MARTIN
Assuming you haven't had your fill of toys already this past holiday season, we have a lineup of three gadgets that look particularly fun.
Here is a device that is, at the moment, still only a prototype — though fingers crossed it will one day make it to a toystore near you. Pinoky, as it's called, is a clever ring-shaped gadget that can be snapped on to the arm or leg of your favorite toy in order to "bring it to life." Arms can wave, legs can kick, and tails can even wag — with this new robotic appendage essentially converting your stuffed toy into a cyborg!
Pinoky can be controlled remotely with no wires to get in the way. The ring does look a little bit odd clamped on a toy's arm, but I don't think kids would mind once their toys have come to life! As for the technicalities, the device contains a micro-controller, a ZigBee microchip, and a servomotor. The latter is used to push a bar against the toy's limbs, which in turn makes them move.
Amazingly, Pinoky has a recording and playback function, so if you go through a series of actions, Pinoky can remember them and play the movements back later. It can also synchronize its actions with another Pinoky nearby, meaning that it can coordinate the movement of multiple limbs of the same stuffed animal, or you could create a chorus line of kicking teddy bears in skirts — should you be so inclined.
The project springs from a program named ERATO (Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology), and is funded by the Japan Science and Technology Agency (www.designinterface.jp/en/projects/PINOKY) Regrettably, a representative tells The Japan Times that Pinoky — as cool as it is — will not be made available for retail purchase, since their group is only a research organization. I still think it would make a great gift idea though. And hopefully one day it will trickle down from the research lab into stores.
Droid Phone × Phone
If you were lucky enough to score a new smartphone or tablet this Christmas (particularly an Android model), Hashy Top-in has a cool accessory that you might enjoy — a robot-shaped telephone receiver that can be attached to your existing smartphone via the headphone jack.
It's called Droid Phone × Phone. And if you're making a phone call (or even a Skype/VOIP call) and you have it connected, you can simply press down on the left arm to activate the receiver. Whoever's on the other end will now be speaking through this Droid receiver. If you dial a wrong number (i.e. it's not the droid you were looking for) you can simply push down on your Droid's head to end the call.
I admit, that the functionality here isn't going to give you much more than a phone's regular speakerphone function — but it's a fun, hands-free desk option that Android fans might make use of at their desk. It comes in two colors, green and pink — although I can't imagine why anyone would want to choose the pink over the iconic Android green.
It costs about ¥1,500, and is available from the Hashy Top-in website (hashy-topin.com). The company tells us that customers can also find it in retail stores such as Tokyu Hands, Loft and Village Vanguard.
USB Missile Launcher
And perhaps no list of geeky Japanese gadgets is complete without some sort of wacky USB device. This time we have one courtesy of the folks over at Sirobako.com, in the USB Missile Launcher — perfect for those of you who enjoy a little office warfare.
This miniature missile launcher only measures 140mm × 110mm × 110mm and weighs 350 grams. But that's not to say that it doesn't pack some big firepower (or at least, as big as you'd want in an indoor setting), capable of firing tiny missiles up to 5 meters. The device also has a handy camera on the front, which you can use to view potential targets in range. By using your mouse you can rotate the launcher 270 degrees horizontally, or tilt it 30 degrees vertically, viewing everything in your target zone on your PC.
Like any other arms dealer, Sirobako is selling to both sides in the personal computer wars, as the USB Missile Launcher is compatible with both Windows and Macintosh. Sirobako's Missile Launcher is available for purchase on their website (www.sirobako.com), for a reasonable ¥3,680.