All posts in “toys”

Adorable AR-activated ‘Star Wars’ Stormtrooper robot is the droid you’re looking for

Want to uphold the First Order and deal with some rebel scum from your own room?

In the same week we’ve seen the new trailer for The Last Jedi, AI and humanoid robotic company UBTECH has released a new Star Wars Stormtrooper robot. It’ll come with an augmented reality app, and can take voice commands, do facial recognition and even sentry patrolling.

The First Order Stormtrooper Robot’s AR app mode is supported by a voice activated command feature so you can issue direct verbal orders to your robot, launch “attacks” and tackle those pesky rebels through the app interface.

Image: ubtech

There’s facial recognition at play here, too. Using the facial biometrics feature, you can create a database of up to three faces that your little Stormtrooper responds to with customised interactions. Best to designate your least favourite roomie as a member of the Resistance.

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Kept within a closed network, the Stormtrooper Robot won’t start taking orders from a random online Sith, and no data or personal information is saved to the robot or the companion app. 

The robot and app communicate via Wi-Fi but the company assures that the transmission is 128-bit AES encrypted. 

Image: ubtech

And anyone with pesky siblings, nosy pets or roomies, the robot has a “sentry” feature, in which you can order the little soldier to patrol a designated area and notify you of intruders. Plus, it won’t bump into your furniture, using an IR sensor to detect and avoid objects.

Image: UBTECH

You’re in charge, so make sure you let your mate know to duck when investigating Death Star docking bay 327 — low-hanging pressure doors are a bitch.

UBTECH’s Star Wars First Order Stormtrooper Robot retails for US$299.99 and is available for pre-order now on the website and select retailers.

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The real Einstein would send Professor Einstein, his robot namesake, into a black hole

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Albert Einstein — the guy who couldn’t tie his shoelace, but also developed the Theory of Relativity — was a both a genius and an oddball. His robot namesake, Professor Einstein, is mostly just an oddball.

Hanson Robotics Founder and CEO David Hanson has long been fascinated by the German-born physicist. He built a life-sized and life-like Einstein head on top of a Hubo robot more than a decade ago. In 2015, he cooked up the idea of a desktop-sized Einstein robot that could teach young people about science.

The result is Professor Einstein, a $299, 15-inch, rubber-faced, mustachioed Einstein look-alike who will make eye contact, tell terrible jokes, and, in concert with a rich Stein-O-Matic app, teach you about a wide array of scientific disciplines.

With his yellow sweater, brown tie, corduroy pants, bushy mustache, and wispy white hair, Professor Einstein does make a good first impression. The bot is unmistakably based on the legendary scientist who died in 1955.

Set-up is relatively straight-forward. Professor Einstein uses dual-proprietary battery packs — one goes in each foot — and there’s a small power switch on his lower back. The Stein-O-Matic app (iOS or Android) leads you through the rest. You create a profile and tell Professor Einstein your name, which he will occasionally use when speaking to you. There’s an Asteroids-like game, “Mag-Neato,” included, which I quite enjoyed playing. One general criticism I have of the app, though, is that it frequently uses almost unreadably small text. I’m sure it looks better on an iPad.

Some of what Hanson accomplished with Professor Einstein is impressive. Einstein raises his eyebrows, blinks, and appears to watch you with his green eyes. His mouth moves in sync with his voice. He can even stick out his plastic tongue, recreating the famous Albert Einstein portrait. The robot can walk, haltingly, and raise his right arm, which automatically extends its index finger.

He points!

He points!

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Hanson Robotics got the Einstein details right.

Hanson Robotics got the Einstein details right.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

However, a lot of Professor Einstein is disappointing. The voice is vaguely elderly and Germanic, but also sort of a buzz-filled mess. At one point the robot launched into a lengthy explanation of the universe. It was interesting, but also painful to listen to. 

Professor Einstein speaks at a raised volume, which means it’s just below a shout. Even worse, there’s no volume control on the robot or in the app.

There are a whole bunch of science topics inside the Stein-O-Matic app. Typically you read the card and then answer quiz questions.

There are a whole bunch of science topics inside the Stein-O-Matic app. Typically you read the card and then answer quiz questions.

Image: Hanson Robotics

I am learning.

I am learning.

Image: Hanson robotics

As a robot, Einstein is also disappointing, with fewer sensors than your average iPhone. Professor Einstein has no accelerometer or gyroscope, so there’s no reaction when you pick him up or knock him down. There is a camera “hidden” in his tie — it, along with two microphones hidden behind the ears and under all that white hair, is used to track you so Einstein appears to be making eye-contact. Sometimes, Einstein seems to be looking at you, but most of the time, he’s just randomly looking around the room. 

On the bright side, Professor Einstein can be pretty smart, as long as he’s connected to the Internet (he lost his connection to our office network every few minutes). You set that up through the app and then, each time you power Professor Einstein up, you have to wait for him to establish a connection. At least he tells you he’s doing so:

“Just one moment while I try to go online.

I will just need a moment to complete the connection.

Let’s get to work.”

You have to listen to this every single time you turn on the robot.

If he’s connected, Professor Einstein can answer a wide variety of questions. Most responses sound like they come straight from Wikipedia, but many are actually from Hanson Robotic’s Cloud AI.

Even though the robot is recording your voice (after “Hey Professor”) and sending it to the cloud, the system uses end-to-end encryption to protect your privacy.

There are dozens of personal questions you can ask Professor Einstein about himself, but you won’t get the answers quickly.

Professor Einstein is most effective when he’s working in concert with the app, which is full of science courses (or cards), quizzes, and games. I did feel like I was learning about science and appreciated that every time I answered questions correctly, Professor Einstein cheered my results. He also commented when I got something wrong.

Sometimes Professor Einstein explains things at length, peppering his commentary with terrible jokes:

“It’s called the Goldilocks Zone because scientists are terrible at naming things, Just ask Uranus.”

Good outfit, Einstein.

Good outfit, Einstein.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

The Professor also has a collection of entertaining pre-built animation routines, which you can access by saying the right phrase (no need for a “Hey Professor”). They include sticking out his tongue, dancing, and giving you a big, creepy smile. I had trouble making many of these work, partly because the included Quick Start manual mangled some of the commands. For example, in the manual it says, “Stick out your tongue,” but the robot only responds to “Stick your tongue out.”

Interaction with Professor Einstein can be painfully slow, mostly because the bot is sending queries out to the cloud.

Here’s how one interaction went: 

I said, “Hey Professor,”

And then I waited.

A few seconds later he replied, “Yes, that’s me.”

Then I asked him to tell me a joke.

He replied, “One moment.”

And I waited.

Then he replied, “Here’s a good one.”

I’d tell you the joke, but the the speech is so poor that I didn’t even catch all of it.

Professor Einstein gets points for an on-point Albert Einstein outfit, a life-like, expressive face, and an excellent learning app, but I would not pay $299 for a robot that responds only 70% of the time and talks (too loudly) like it swallowed a fistful of bees.

Professor Einstein

The Good

Animated, life-like face Rich, deep and fun science education app

The Bad

Slow Inconsistent operation No volume control Can’t maintain network connection

The Bottom Line

Relatively speaking, this is not one of the better toy robots we’ve tested.

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Kids app maker Toca Boca debuts its first consumer product collection at Target


Toca Boca, a hugely popular kids’ app maker, has grown to over 170 million downloads across its line of 38 apps, which 13 million children use every month. Now, the company is transitioning its brand beyond the digital space to become a maker of real-world products, as well. In an exclusive deal with Target, announced today, Toca Boca will launch its own collection of apparel, accessories, sleepwear, backpacks, lunch bags, bedding and activity books, aimed at kids ages 5 to 9.

The collection will feature Toca Boca’s iconic characters and style, and will adhere to the same design principles that has made its apps – which the company refers to as “digital toys” – so well-liked.

If you’re a parent, it’s nearly impossible to miss out on the Toca Boca craze. The Stockholm-based app maker dominates today’s App Store, thanks to its clever and thoughtfully designed suite of apps. To give you an idea of its market traction, the company currently has 23 percent market share among the paid kid apps on the App Store – that’s a huge chunk of the pie.

The U.S., in particular, is a key market for Toca Boca, accounting for nearly a third of its total user base across both Android and iOS.

What makes Toca Boca so appealing to children is that the apps are designed to inspire more open-ended play. Unlike most games, there are levels to beat or scores to top; instead, Toca Boca lets kids just have fun with apps – whether that’s cutting and styling characters’ hair, hosting a tea party, putting together a band and making music, creating robots, or even designing or playing within virtual worlds, as with its Toca Life series (e.g. Toca Life: City, Toca Life: Farm, etc.), Toca Nature, and more.

The company grew out of the 200-year-old Swedish publishing firm Bonnier, where it had operated like a startup. It was sold in 2016 to children’s entertainment company Spin Master, which produces kids TV “Paw Patrol” and others, and makes a number of toys, like the Flutterbye Fairies and Kinetic Sand, for example.

Toca Boca says it already had plans to expand beyond digital before Spin Master acquired it, but its new parent has been a helpful partner on this initiative.

“Toca Boca’s vision is to be a category-independent brand, to be a beacon in the world for kids. The move into physical products and licensing began nearly two years ago, before the acquisition, and marks a major milestone toward that goal,” explains Toca Boca COO, Caroline Ingeborn.

“However, working with Spin Master since the acquisition has been great as we have very complementary skill sets. They’ve been able to support us and offer a helpful perspective and we are looking forward to continuing to work with them in the future,” she says.

The debut collection at Target will include 38 individual SKUs, which will launch this month ahead of the back-to-school shopping season on both target.com and in retail stores. The clothing will be available in sizes 4 to 16, and will be available for both boys and girls – as the apps themselves have a cross-gender appeal. In addition, the collection will be merchandized between the boys’ and girls’ aisles in many Target stores, the company also notes.

Like its apps, the products follow the same design principles – clean lines, bright color palettes, and a bit of quirkiness – notes Toca Boca.

“The collection features some of kids’ favorite elements from Toca Life in a way we hope empowers kids and helps them express who they are,” notes Ingeborn. “We tried to inject the fun details we are known for in digital toys into everyday items — making playthings out of everything,” she adds.

The products, at a glance, are obviously from Toca Boca – and it’s likely kids who see them in Target’s aisles will immediately make the connection.

While this is the first time Toca Boca will have its own consumer products, the company’s subsidiary Sago Mini, aimed the  preschool set, already has a line of books, plush toys, figurines, playsets, bedding, t-shirts, books, and more, which are sold online today. Its product line, first launched with toys in 2015, takes a different approach, however. Its primary focus is toys and it designs everything in-house.

Toca Boca, meanwhile, worked with licensees to create its debut line, including FABNY, The Foundery, Franco Manufacturing and Random House Children’s Books. The decision allowed it to bring its products to market more quickly, says Ingeborn. And its initial collection does not include toys.

What’s interesting about Toca Boca’s consumer product launch, too, is that it’s tying the physical goods to the apps in a unique way. Its Toca Life: City app is going free for the first time, and is being updated with a new feature and location where kids can unlock in-app gifts using a free code found inside Target’s stores.

The unlocked content will be some of the same items Toca Boca is selling at Target – effectively turning the app into a promotional mechanism for the real-world products.

Toca Boca’s collection hits Target on July 17.

Time 4 Machine promises to bring us back to an age of metal and clockwork


The tinging of tiny hammers from the heart of Dwarf Mountains may now be lost to the mists of time but you, my friend, can still make magically complex metallic contrivances in the comfort of your own barrow/home. I point to Time 4 Machine, a selection of metal models made the creator of the wooden uGears, Denis Okhrimenko.

The models range from a table hockey set with moving players to a working cabriolet with gearbox, drive train, and spring-powered engine. You put these models together yourself and each one costs between $50 and $95. The series even includes an old-timey tank that looks like a British Mark V and a Mysterious Clock that keeps time.

Okhrimenko has shipped models before and these are just some of his latest creations. The kits are reminiscent of stuff my father used to put together as a kid and they come with all the pieces and assembly instructions.

“I moved from wooden 3D puzzles to metal mechanical models, and created something totally new,” said Okhrimenko. These things aren’t high-tech on the surface but the process of creating so many metal parts and fitting them together is something even those Dwarven metal mongers could never imagine.