No two real dogs are the same. They differ in temperament, character and appearance. That’s why we love them. Now, WowWee thinks it can make one in a million like robot dogs.
Back to when robot toys were a thing, their weirdness and closeness Uncanny Valley (opens in a new tab) was often part of their appeal. Spearheading the attack was WowWee, who sold a series of quirky robo-characters from Robosapiens to Roboraptor (opens in a new tab) they were all surprisingly strange.
But the robotics fad has faded, and interests have shifted from physical play to screen play. Robot toys have mostly disappeared, and in their place appeared blind surprise toys (opens in a new tab): often eggs that can be bought invisible, all so that you can burst them and discover a collection of figurines and plush toys.
WowWee didn’t just sit back and watch robot toys fall, it switched to things like breadsticks (opens in a new tab) and Avastars (opens in a new tab). He never forgot the robots, but getting back into the game would require a change of perspective: it couldn’t be expensive; it couldn’t be another robot. Ultimately, the company drew inspiration from two unexpected spaces: NFT and blind toys.
The result is the Mintid Dog-E, unveiled here at CES 2023 in Las Vegas. At first, it’s a bland, all-white robot pup, but that dim-witted attitude is part of the toy’s genius. You see, no one knows when they buy a $79.99 ($99.99 in Canada) toy (in October) what kind of robot dog they’re getting. All personality and life is hidden in the sleeping motors, LED lights off, cute folded ears and a fixed tail that does something I’ve never seen before in a robot dog.
Unpacking and turning on the Dog-E beats the puppy for the first time, setting the robotic toy it will become in motion. The ears develop and glow, as do the eyes, chest and paws. The custom combination of lights and bright colors will tell you what kind of robot dog you have when the tail wags furiously. The latter goes so fast that the taillights (yes, I said that) use the persistence of the motion to spell out the words and deliver the Dog-E message to you. In the prototype, I saw that the movement generated a loud noise, but WowWee executives insist that this be sorted out before Dog-E hits the shelves.
WowWee connects Dog-E to an app (iOS or Android) where you can engage with your puppy Tamagotchi-style by delivering treats and food and keeping track of things like hunger, happiness, and love.
The same app can also be used to remotely control the robot and move it on its wheeled legs. There may be a separate app to enable STEM-based programming features of Dog-E where users will be able to schedule a series of robo-dog activities.
Still, during my brief interaction with Dog-E, I found that it didn’t require any remote management. It reacted to touch and leapt forward in excitement. He barks and makes other noises and hears your voice. I could pick up Psa-E and his plastic tongue would pop out of his head and “lick” my face.
As part of the one-in-a-million dog concept, features such as language will be adjusted. Different colored tongues may indicate a rarer Dog-E find (gold will be very rare). The app will tell you what kind of dog you have, but you can also collect that with the involvement of Dog-E. For example, a chihuahua moves much faster than, say, a bulldog.
While you can knock out and grow your Dog-E for yourself, you can use the app to knock out multiple robot puppies in one Dog-E. Switching profiles (up to 11) will result in different Dog-E pets. WowWee even imagines that a child can, if they don’t like the robot friend they ended up with, remind their Psu-E.
The Dog-E will come with what looks like a sock chew toy. It has a built-in squeaky toy that will keep Dog-E in place when it squeaks. The magnet will connect to the magnet in Dog-E’s nose so that your dog can pull it and play with it. In the prototype I saw, the nose was a button, but that could change by the time the Dog-E is released later this year.
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