Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Nerdage.net Review: WowWee Chatterbot

Sometimes, all your computer needs is a little personality. Sometimes (*cough beige box cough*) it needs a lot of personality. WowWee's new line of Chatterbots might be the answer.

These collectable, highly stylized character figurines always have something to say about what you are up to -- and it's not always appropriate!

Each Chatterbot features a unique personality and a signature animation. Connect directly to your Mac or PC using the included USB cable, then listen and watch as your Chatterbot entertains you with its unpredictable stream of jokes, dialog, and comments about your virtual life.


WowWee currently offers three models:

Dog/Cat: A dog sitting in a litterbox with a kittie squished underneath.

Devil/Angel: A blue devil with a pitchfork, harp and halo, sitting on a cloud.

Fairy Godfather: A mobster-looking guy dressed like a ballerina. He sits on an easy chair and clutches a magic wand.

Interfacing with email, the web browser, calendars and instant messaging, the Chatterbot is triggered by these data sources and animates and/or makes comments relating to the text. The bots represent an extension of WowWee's robots (such as the Robosapien) which can be programmed to demonstrate certain simple personality traits -- for instance, friendliness or irritability. The Chatterbot can be set to make jokes, spout out trivia, or make wisecracks about the website you're visiting. You can even press buttons to "punish" and "praise" the bot, presumably altering its behavioral parameters.

It's hard to say how hackable these bots are. You can certainly tweak the keywords the bot reacts to in order to customize it to your own tastes. Hardware-wise, other than the animation aspect, the Chatterbot basically serves as a speaker, and in fact the various models can be used as iPod speakers. On the other hand, the Chatterbot's quips are all .WAV files, so it's a simple matter to record your own, as long as you don't expect it to sound the same as its normal voice.

When all is said and done, the Chatterbot has a lot of potential and I'd love to see WowWee support the line over multiple generations. As the interface and personality evolve, expect to see the Chatterbot become more of an electronic pet than a curiosity. Like a program in beta, you can really see its potential while acknowledging that it has only begun its journey.

The Chatterbot may be found at the following stores: Circuit City Online, MacMall.com and the WowWee Online Store. Look for it at Target.com and iQVC.com in the next few weeks.

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