Archive for February, 2008

My older son just turned 8 years old last week and among his presents he received a robotic dog toy. I actually can’t remember the name of the manufacturer and don’t know if I would even want to link to them.

He saw it prior to Christmas and expressed an interest for it but Santa probably didn’t have enough to go around so we got him one. It seemed fairly straightforward to use when we pressed the demo buttons in the store and he is quite good at figuring out how things work. After getting my rushed degrees in Engineering and Neurosurgery I finally manage to separate the goods from the packaging and extracted the little bugger. There was more plastic holding the thing in place within the box than the toy is actually made of and there was no opening flap of any kind on any of the six sides of the box. It came with a hefty user’s manual so while he started to play with it we perused the instructions.

This thing is supposedly full of sensors; 12 in fact, and it uses the “latest technology”. For the price we paid it better well be. The toy didn’t want to do any of what it is supposed to. Then all of a sudden it did respond and the boys had some fun with it. My wife had the guide and started to laugh while reading the following passage. I have to admit I found it funny too but the more the boys tried to get this thing to react the more I thought “What a piece of crap” and to cover that fact someone in Marketing was probably ordered to put a spin on this. Here is what the user’s guide says:

“[product name] uses the latest artificial intelligence software. He has the intellect of an 8-week old puppy. Puppies aren’t perfect and neither [product name]. He can have a mind of his own. Sometimes [product name] will respond to your command, and sometimes he will do what he wants to do. It all depends on how he feels and how you are trying to communicate with him.” (grammatical errors as per text)

That paragraph describes the toy perfectly. Is this not the perfect cop out for a piece of junk? The “latest artificial intelligence software” – WOW! Not at M.I.T., NASA or SONY but right here in my son’s new toy! This thing can actually decide to do what it wants … or is it a malfunctioning ripoff? Call me skeptical. My son has given up on the toy and we have an expensive doorstop.

Here is the conversation at the company headquarters as I imagine it:

CEO: what do you mean there is a problem with the software?
VP R&D: well, it isn’t quite doing what we hoped it would.
VP Production: what? We already have 250,000 units made!
CEO: not to mention $2 million spent in R&D.
VP Sales: let’s just move ahead and ship them out anyway.
Everyone stares at him with mouthes gapping.
VP Sales: just get someone in marketing to prove themselves by putting a spin on this and pulling it out of the fire.

Well, I hope that person got the free lunch they deserve. That advanced intelligence doorstop is going back to the store and my son can have any LEGO set of his choice within the same price category. At least I know that will never let him down. I think a letter to the company is in order too.

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