The times they are changing– just look at what our children are playing with nowadays. Dollhouses and toy cars still continue to captivate the imagination of youngsters but the more popular playthings of the newer generation are interactive video games, remotely controlled toys and robots that talk!
Toy robots originated about at the same time when prototypes of actual robots were being built. Frenchman Jacques de Vaucanson built one of the earliest robot prototypes in the year 1738. It was remarkable at that time and the concept is still intriguing—he invented a self automated mechanical duck that could eat grain and digest it, flap its wings and was also able to excrete! Hisashige Tanaka, of Japan, outdid himself with a variety of excessively complex automated toys, or motor toys (motorisk legetøj), which could serve tea, fire projectiles and even paint!
The first humanoid robot saw its advent in the 30s at the hands of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. The robot was christened ‘Elektro’ and was on display at the World’s Fair from 1939 to 1940. In the year 1949, William Grey of Burden Neurological Institute (in Bristol, England) made the first electrically powered automation—in fact he built two—‘Elmer’ and ‘Elise’. These robots were capable of sensing light and contact with objects in their environment, even being able to locate their charging points in case their power source was running out of juice.
The first true toy robot can be allegedly acclaimed to the Tomy Kyogo Company which built ‘Omnibot 2000’ in the year 1985. The robot could be controlled by a hand held remote control or one could program a set of commands on a magnetic tape. The revolutionary toy robot dog AIBO was built in the 90s by Sony Corporation. AIBO was able to self navigate a room and play ball and fetch using its superior sensor array and locating sensors. AIBO still continues to evolve and astound. Other pet robots soon followed suit. Furby was created in ’98, by Tiger Electronics, which could interface with its owner. Then AIBo saw its competitor in NeCoRo in 2001 (by Omron). NeCoRo was able to generate and exhibit feelings!
Toy robots have come a long way. They form a steady companion for any child and are able to provide hours of fun and education as well. There’s nothing more influential, in getting your child interested in mechanics and electronics, than robots. Toy robots also form great institution toys (institutionslegetøj). So the next time you are out to buy toys—remember the toy robot!