Like a lot of the current crop of adult geeks, I grew up on Star Wars. I remember standing in line for Jedi when I was eight years old and I remember watching the cartoons on Saturday mornings. And, of course, I had a metric ton of toys. Including R2-D2 and C-3PO.
I remember being disappointed by the fact that I could not get a real R2 unit; I was crushed when I found out there was an actor inside the little metal 'bot.
Fast forward 25 years and I still want a working, independent R2 unit. (Preferably one without a bad motivator.) And, now, it seems like things are finally heading that direction.
My wanderings across the great and dusty interwebtubes have brought two droids to my attention recently: Chumby and the Tux Droid. Chumby is a small screen-in-pillow device that gathers fodder from the 'tubes and displays it back to you whenever and however you want. The Tux Droid is a small, stuffed Penguin that works via IR and will do mundane online chores for you.
Chumby may look like little more than a glorified alarm clock but it lists an impressive range of features, including: acting as a digital photo frame, internet radio, YouTube video player, feed reader, and calendar. And alarm clock. Chumby is open source and designed to be hacked by just about anyone. Users create "widgets" that are then placed on the Chumby network and then downloaded by anyone who wants one. According to the website, the physical unit will work on any open, wireless network.
Tux, on the other hand, is designed to be a little more active than Chumby. The Tux Droid has several inputs, like a microphone and touch sensors, built into it. They allow Tux to respond to commands and the 'bot will check to see if you have new email or if something has finished downloading. Once it has done your bidding, it will report back by dancing or blinking its eyes.
The kid in me sees both of these products and gets an immediate -5 against my saving throw for Shiny. And, truth to tell, I would like to have either or both, just to play with because I think this is one of the futures of consumers goods. Why wouldn't kids like to have a doll that can talk back? Why wouldn't adults want web-enabled devices that do what we want without the bother of a direct interface?
These ideas are not new. I remember my sister's Teddy Ruxpin doll when we were kids. It was basically a stuffed bear with a cassette deck built into its back that would simulate a conversation and tell stories to its owner. And more recently, Ambient Technologies has been taking the idea of ubiquitous computing and running with it. Products like the Ambient Orb, which lets you know, for example, how your stocks are doing by glowing a different color, are in this same idea of hardware that anyone can program doing the work we do not want to do ourselves. And it's brilliant.
So. If anyone's got a spare couple of hundred bucks laying around, well, you know what I want.