The colors are familiar and there's a telltale Robosapien logo on the chest, but WowWee's new Roboquad looks unlike any toy or robot you've seen before.
With four "legs," a body like a 1970s airport terminal and a longish neck topped off with a flat head, it's more crustacean than automaton.
More than any robot toy WowWee's produced before, the Roboquad defies description.
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It's 14 inches tall, weighs roughly 3 pounds, and comes, like all other WowWee toys, with a remote control that lets you control movement and, to an extent, mood.
The Roboquad operates in four different "personalities": default, Activity, Aggression and Awareness; each of these can be set at different levels.
There is also an Autonomy mode, which allows Roboquad to roam freely and interact with its environment. Each setting affects how the robot walks, sounds, looks around, and reacts to stimuli.
Unlike other WowWee products, the Roboquad doesn't have a single touch sensor. Instead, it's rigged for sound and visual sensation.
Auditory input (usually a loud sound such as a hand clap) is registered on a microphone on the front of the robot. One eye houses an infrared receiver and the other an IR transmitter.
Using these sensors, the Roboquad, which runs on four C batteries, can scan areas as far away as six meters, find and avoid obstacles, notice things in its field of view — even when they move — or locate the nearest escape route.
In my testing it did a fair job of seeing obstacles, although, instead of avoiding them outright, it usually got quite close (within an inch or so) before backing off and finding an alternate route.
If there's something at the level of its feet, the Roboquad may just keep trying to walk forward. I encountered this troubling response more than once.
Though the Roboquad has just six motors, it moves in odd and often unexpected ways. Its legs can rotate in unison or independently and in either direction.
Unfortunately, the knee joints (for lack of a better term) are fixed, so the robot's movement all comes about from the legs rotating left or right at the hips.
Likewise, the Roboquad's head can rotate at its base and bend at a joint just below the head. The second neck joint is only spring-loaded and never moves on its own.
Festooned with lights (that serve no function) and powerful speakers that put out a variety of robot-like sounds and can play a jaunty tune in demo mode (yes, there is a volume control), the Roboquad is something of a crab-walking party.
I took it home one evening and test-ran it for my 5-year-old nephew and my own two children, ages 9 and 12.
The Roboquad is intended for children age 8 and older, but my nephew was clearly intrigued by its looks, movement and sounds. He tentatively touched the robot, but never attempted to pick it up — understandably, since the Roboquad is about as huggable as a lobster.
It did respond when he put his hand in front of its face, but it would be nice if WowWee had included just one touch-sensitive button.
My children immediately dubbed the robot "cool," and within minutes, my daughter was using the somewhat awkward-to-hold remote (too thin on one end and too fat on the other) to control it.
The Roboquad will walk in the direction you assign, look where you want and even act as you request, depending on its preassigned "personality."
We found the Autonomy mode most interesting, as the Roboquad attempted to navigate its environment and made odd sounds as it scanned its surroundings and sometimes seemed startled (when we placed our hands in front of his head).
The startled sound, by the way, sounds almost too much like R2-D2's from Star Wars.
Walking like a drunken crab, the Roboquad navigates a room pretty well.
For each movement — walking forward and back, left or right, or rotating one way or the other — it supposedly has two "gaits." But in my tests, its rather awkward way of moving made it difficult to discern a difference between the two.
In fact, that was the case for much of the Roboquad's activity. The manual explains, for example, that each personality setting has three different levels, Low, Medium and High (green, orange, and red).
So for the Aggression personality, the red LED (on the remote) or High setting will make the Roboquad have a "more aggressive response." There's also a shift button that adds yet another level of control complexity.
All in all, you can do a lot with this robot. I counted 72 different activities.
The problem is that it's often hard to tell what the robot is doing. Its roar doesn't sound particularly roar-like, and Attack mode, a subroutine of the Aggression personality, in which it tilts its body forward by shifting its back legs into a more upright position, doesn't look all that threatening.
The Roboquad doesn't learn or change its personality over time, but it can be programmed and will hold the programming info until it's powered down.
Programming is easy. I simply hit the "P" button and then selected over a dozen moves and activities (the Roboquad can handle up to 40 commands).
BOTTOM LINE: WowWee's latest robot toy confounds and confuses, but ultimately wins you over.
PROS: Unusual. Entertaining. Dozens of functions. Programmable. Engages children and adults.
CONS: Programming evaporates on power-down. Non-ergonomic remote. Different modes hard to tell from one another. Poor "vision" below "eye" level.
COMPANY: WowWee Ltd.
EDITOR RATING: Three out of five stars.
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