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October 14, 2011 > The Robot Report

The Robot Report

By Frank Tobe

This holiday season, people are looking to get their money's worth from gift giving. Gifts need to be phenomenal, practical or inexpensive. In the phenomenal category, what's more exciting than getting a robot as a holiday gift?

For Grandparents and teenagers:
Parrot AR.Drone QuadriCopter - $299
Two cameras, front-facing and bottom-facing, stream live video to the screen of your tablet or smartphone for capture. Augmented Reality (AR) apps enable dog fights and video games. $299 at Amazon plus the cost of the apps.

For Mom:
iRobot's Scooba bathroom floor cleaning robot - $299
A floor-washing robot for bathrooms, kitchens and other non-carpeted floors. Removes up to 98% of common household bacteria from hardwood, tile and linoleum floors. Cleans bathroom floors better than competing robotic products. $299 from Amazon plus $13 for cleaning fluid.

For Dad:
Adaptive cruise control robot option for new cars - $599 - $2,495
With embedded robotic systems, cars keep getting smarter and safer all the time. Adaptive cruise control is a "smart" system that actively maintains a preset distance between vehicles rather than a preset speed. A laser or radar range finder sensor in the front of the vehicle measures the distance to the vehicle ahead and automatically maintains a safe distance as traffic speeds up and slows down. Available in higher-end versions from most car companies at prices ranging from $495 to $2,500. Lane awareness, night vision pedestrian detection, and car-to-car danger warning systems are in the wings.

For science-interested kids 10 and older:
LEGO Mindstorms NXT kit - $273
Buildable, programmable robot kit with sensors, servo motors and a microprocessor. LEGO kit includes 612 pieces, 4 sensors, 3 servo motors, and 32-bit microprocessor with Bluetooth and USB links to PC and Mac software with drag and drop programming. Instructions for four different robot configurations. $273 from Amazon.

For girls younger than 10:
Penbo the affectionate waddling penguin - $45
Specially designed for pre-teen girls, Penbo is affection to her owner and her baby. She responds to touch and sound and has a pouch. Can operate autonomously or with remote control. $45 at Amazon.

- OR-

Fijit the squishy dancing friend - $42
Similar to MyKeepon but less altruistic, Fijit from Mattel is an interactive, pokable plaything for young girls. $49 plus the cost of the app available at Amazon.

For the philanthropic:
MyKeepon - $49 (part of the proceeds go to support autism research). Originally developed to study nonverbal interaction and social development with autistic children, its $30,000 price tag kept it away from most. Now reconfigured to be a toy, a portion of the revenue will be used to enable researchers and practitioners to use the $30,000 Keepon version of the robot in autism therapy. Available exclusively from Toys R Us in the U.S. for $49.

- OR -

Donate a $280,000 PR2 to your alma mater's robotics lab.
Life-sized robot able to navigate in human environments and grasp and manipulate objects. Open-source library of functions includes folding laundry, fetching beer, playing pool, etc. Ideal gift from alumni to robotics lab at alma mater. $280,000 for two-armed personal robot; $200,000 for single-armed PR2. Both with integrated Kinect device.

For everyone:
A sphere with inside lights that can be controlled with smartphone apps. Coming to market in time for the holiday season, Sphero is a robotic ball controlled by your smartphone (iOS and Android). $129 plus the cost of the app from Sphero.

For readers of all ages:
Selected books about robots and robotics - $10-$221
Best sellers, thought provoking, scary, insightful, detailed - this hand-picked selection of books about robots will provide hours of interesting reading and valuable additions to robot fans libraries. Available from Amazon - $10 to $221

Frank Tobe spent over 25 years as consultant to the DNC and major presidential, senatorial, congressional, mayoral campaigns and initiatives all across the U.S., Canada and internationally. In early 2008, in a personal effort to learn about the robotics industry and the future of robotics, and with an eye toward selectively investing in publicly-traded and privately owned robotics businesses, he began an intensive research project that took him to Japan, Korea, Germany, throughout the US and the Internet. The Robot Report is designed to track the business of robotics and provide in-depth opinion and insights. For more information, visit: and

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