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Since the days of Robby the Robot and Forbidden Planet people have been fascinated by the study of robotics and fantastically imaginative about the capabilities of robot technology. While robots today help build our cars and process our foods, nowhere is this innovation more creative than in the field of robotic toys. With technology ever increasing, the world of robotic toys provides a vast amount of entertainment and activity to any robot lover.
What makes a robot different from a regular machine is a tricky distinction. Many people agree that a robot must be a machine that in some way mimics human or animal behavior. While purists whittle this definition down so that only a few toys classify as true robots, to the casual robot fan, a robot is any machine that has a function that mimics life.
Classic robot toys can take you back to the mid-20th century, when robots became part of the vocabulary of science fiction or futuristic stories. The very first toy robot is believed by some to be a Japanese toy called “Liliput,” which ran on clockwork mechanics. Another early robot toy, named Robert, was released in America in 1954, just in time for Christmas. Original versions of these toys are considered collectors items and are extremely rare today.
With the explosion of sci-fi films in the 1950s and the excitement of the Space Race throughout the 1960s, robot toys grew tremendously in popularity and ability. Japanese toymakers quickly began to release the first battery-operated robotic toys, frequently copying movie designs such as that of the famous Robby from Forbidden Planet. Robots became symbolic of the fantastic future ahead, where humans would be able to kick back and let these wonderful, controllable machines do all the work.
Today, robotic toys are far more advanced than the early models. One popular genre of robotic toys are lifelike toy animals. These creatures can walk, make noise, and even display emotion. The WowWee Roboraptor features the ability to walk, run, or stalk prey. The Discovery Channel T-Rex uses remote control technology to tell your dino where to go and when to roar.
Some animal robotic toys seem on their way to replacing pets. The Sega Toys Dream Hamster will scurry and nap in your hands, allowing you to pet its soft fur. One of the most technically advanced robotic toys is the Pleo Dinosaur, a baby dino that develops a distinct personality depending on how you interact with it. Unlike a remote control toy, Pleo creates a daily cycle of its own, including emotions like sadness or vexation, and needs, like hunger.
With the wildly successful release of Pixar’s WALL-E in 2008, it seems clear that the love of robots has far from faded. Rather than imagining them doing our dishes or flying us to work, the 21st century vision of robots seems to be focused on making them more and more human or animal in nature. Robot toys are a wonderful way to introduce children to the wonders of science and technology. With new toys being released each year, you may never tire of the options robotic toys can offer. Besides, one of these days maybe someone will invent one to do your laundry for you!
Here's a bit of trivia. The Nintendo Entertainment System was marketed as a robotic toy when it was first released in the United States in 1985. It came bundled with the robotic operating buddy (R.O.B.) as a way to set it apart from other "toys" and promote the notion that it wasn't just a gaming system.
The R.O.B. didn't last long, but it did bring in a lot of people who who were fascinated by the technological advances robots represent. The move, then, worked and it made a lot of sense. The video game industry crashed and burned in 1984, so marketing another console was viewed as a terrible idea in 1985.
It is worth mentioning that robot toys are often not mere toys in a technological sense. Over the years, a lot of those toys have represented current refinements in the development of robotic technology. That's capitalism at its finest, folks. Researching robotic technology isn't cheap, so why not use some of it to finance more research? A "hit" toy can bring in millions of dollars, after all.
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