Robotic Toys!

This is me back when I was working for Bandai in Tokyo. The little robots were our so-called SyntelliPets (for Synthetic Intelligence). You can read about the AI developed for them at my AI page. They could interact with each other and humans in a number of interesting ways. They had infrared and acoustic sensors which allowed them to spot warm bodies and follow them around. When SyntelliPets were near each other, a command protocol let them play games together, talk, and so on.

The robots used either legs or wheels to get around. They had infrared tranceivers (like that in a TV remote control) so they could find each other and coordinate their behaviours. They had two microphones so they could localize sound and track the source. When spoken to, they could recognize their own name, and simple commands.

A few years ago, Bandai released a robotic pet similar to the concepts we were working on. It's called Wonderborg, and has quite a following on the internet. Wonderborg has a number of built in capabilities like what we built for SyntelliPet, and a simple programming system as well.

This diagram shows some alternative physical layouts for the pet's mechanics.

You can see the infrared transmitter on the very top of all of the units and infrared sensors at the front. The microphones are the small boxes just behind the infared sensors. The large flat block beneath the sensors is the 68xx series integrated microcontroller that ran these things. Underneath that are the two nicad batteries, and packed below that are the two motors for driving the wheels or legs. The tiny wheel on some of the units is a caster. The prototype we built was much larger than these (about 15 cm long) and ran on an 80286 based microcontroller board.

  Sandia Labs has recently shown some tiny autonomous robots that reminded me of what we were trying to achieve. As in our designs, the size of the robot is limited by the size of the power supply.

The pets were intended to be about 6cm (2 inches) long not including the tail. Ultimately none of the pets were released as designed as they would have ended up retailing for around 6000 yen (US$60) using the technology available at the time - in those days that was considering a very steep price for a toy. Instead, the various subsystems (voice recognition, IR transceiver, tilt sensor, AI, etc.) found their way into plush toys that could recognize their name, golf controllers for video games, video games, and many other inexpensive toys. The label at the bottom reads "SyntelliPet Mark II". Mark I was the prototype Triceratops in the first photo.

SyntelliPet concept art:


Content by Nick Porcino (c) 1990-2011