Best Inventions 2005: Bot Crazy

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•FOLLOW THE LEADER Robots may not invade anytime soon, but there's no denying that they're getting smarter. The ball-shaped ApriAlpha uses advanced voice-recognition technology to distinguish between voices coming from different locations. When Alpha hears a voice, it fixes its steely digital-camera eye on the person speaking. The taller ApriAttenda can identify a person in a crowd by the color of his clothes and shape of his body, and then follow its target. It even bleeps when it loses track of its subject.

INVENTOR Toshiba Corp. AVAILABILITY Prototype only TO LEARN MORE 2005_05/pr2001.htm

•TURTLE DANCE It's small, it's cute and it sashays across your desk, tail wriggling. To program Walkie Bits, simply tap its shell with your finger. It can remember and mimic a rhythmic pattern of up to 15 clicks. In song mode, it bleep-bleeps Leopold Mozart's Toy Symphony. But the most fun you can have with these tiny turtle robots is to race them against each other. In basic walk mode, the Walkie Bits' pace is unpredictable, so you never know which one--peach? melon? pineapple? mint?--will win. Each one runs on a watch battery and comes in a canister. Three can fit in the palm of your hand.

INVENTOR Takara AVAILABILITY Now, only in Japan; about $12 each TO LEARN MORE (Japanese only)

•COOL CAT The notion of robot as home companion is nothing new, but iCat adds a human dimension to the job: an expressive face. Tell her to go away, and iCat will look sad. Praise her, and she will beam. Internal microphones can be used to record sounds and assist with speech recognition--iCat is multilingual--and 13 electric motors move her eyes, eyebrows, eyelids, mouth and head to produce the appropriate emotional response. iCat can also connect to the Net and display online info on your TV or read it aloud. One thing she won't do is rub against your leg.

INVENTOR Philips Research, Eindhoven, the Netherlands AVAILABILITY Prototypes for research only TO LEARN MORE

•SIT, NUVO, SIT Tired of coming home to an empty nest each night? Try Nuvo. This 15-in., two-legged bot can dance, talk, play music, tell time and even shake your hand. It can respond to 40 simple commands (like "Nuvo, let's dance") in a Japanese-accented female voice and take pictures with the Cyclops lens mounted on its head. The 15 motorized joints in its body allow Nuvo to perform tricks like headstands and head rolls, as well as to roam freely around the house. Nuvo will even take photos and zap them to your cell phone.