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Jewish World Review
Nov. 30, 2007
/ 20 Kislev 5768
Last year the big "toy" that everyone was lining up in freezing weather to buy was Playstation 3. I can remember about a million years ago when the huge phenomenon was Cabbage Patch Kids. People were getting beat up in stores over them and then there was a shortage and you couldn't even buy one for ten or twenty times the price.
Now comes something really unusual. Here's the perfect gift to give your spoiled rotten kids that have everything else. Or maybe the ideal present for the guy or gal who wants to be waited on hand and foot. From Japan comes the ultimate robot a pearly white little thing that looks sort of like E.T. and can help you get out of bed in the morning, talk with you, and even make your breakfast.
As reported by Reuters, the robot's name is Twendy-One, named as a 21st century version of a previous robot called Wendy. Its most important feature is that it has soft hands and fingers that can gently grip things. It also has enough strength to actually support humans as they sit and stand and it uses supple movements which respond to human touch.
Twendy-One can pick up a loaf of bread without crushing it and can serve toast and help lift people out of bed. That puts the robot three for three with my wife. "It's the first robot in the world with this much system integration," said Shigeki Sugano, professor of mechanical engineering at Waseda University, who led the Twendy-One project (http://twendyone.com) and demonstrated the result. "It's difficult to balance strength with flexibility."
The robot is described as being is a little shorter than an average Japanese woman at about five feet tall, but heavy-set at 245 lb. With long arms and a face shaped like a giant squashed bean it resembles the Steven Spielberg space alien movie character E.T. So you might say it looks cute in an extraterrestrial way.
Twendy-One has taken close to seven years and a budget of several million dollars to pull together all the high-tech features, including the ability to speak and 241 pressure-sensors in each silicon-wrapped hand, into the soft and flexible robot. This isn't one of your old time run-of-the-mill Mattel wind ups this baby is the real deal. During the demonstration, the robot put toast on a plate and retrieved ketchup from a refrigerator when asked, after greeting its "patient for the demonstration" with a robotic "good morning" and "bon appetit."
Sugano said he hoped to develop a commercially viable robot that could help the elderly and maybe work in offices by 2015 with a price tag of around $200,000. But for now, it is still a work in progress. Twendy-One has just 15 minutes of battery life and its computer-laden back has a tendency to overheat after each use. "The robot is so complicated that even for us, it's difficult to get it to move," Sugano said.
You can just imagine the rush on the stores when they finally get Twendy-One's act together and ship them over here. When that day comes, and the thing can be bought for a couple hundred grand, you can bet that every rich little princess in America will be putting this one on her list. And rich daddies will be standing in lines outside electronic stores at 4:AM on Black Friday to be the first to buy one. Hey, this guy beats Chatty Cathy and Mr. Machine hands down not to mention Cabbage Patch Kids.
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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.
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© 2006, Greg Crosby