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PANORAMA: 1997

Babysitters for Your Virtual Pets
by Kofi Akumanyi

OWNERS of virtual reality pets - the small, screen-based creatures that have recently become a major plaything of both children and adults - now have another gadget designed to free their owners from possible stress caused by their pets' relentless demands.

When sales of the Tamagotchi electronic pets are expected to increase for the festive season this winter in Britain, purchasers by then will be able to buy a robot baby-sitter developed by two computer design and development companies, Priestman Goode and Cambridge Design Partnership (CDP).

The developers were motivated to deal with a problem caused by the virtual pets - which is also the fun of owning one - their need for constant human attention and interaction. Unfortunately, their incessant demands are reported to be causing some owners to neglect school lessons, homework, meetings and even meals. Switching off or ignoring their cries for help results in the pet's premature death - causing more anguish to emotional owners.

Therefore, to allow the pet owner to play with a virtual creature and carry on other essential - and actual - personal activities at the same time, the new robot babysitter, which looks like an egg-cup and cradles the virtual pet, is equipped with tiny motors in the cradle. These press the Tamagotchi's buttons and the babysitter learns how the owner feeds, cleans and plays with it. It even plays a lullaby and provides a gentle night-light for pets of a ``more nervous disposition''.

Mike Cane, who helped to design the system, says it can be activated by the user or it can wait for the Tamagotchi's beep for attention that is then picked up by a small microphone.

"Our aim is to liberate the virtual pet owner, giving them back their freedom," added CDP director Mike Beadman. "The challenge was to make the robot baby-sitter cheap enough to be available to all pet owners. We expect them to cost about the same price as the pet they are looking after."

For more information, contact:

Mike Cane
Cambridge Design Partnership
The Old Horse-Yard, Comberton Road, Toft
Cambridge, United Kingdom, CB3 7RY
Telephone: +44 1223 264428
Fax: +44 1223 264419
E-mail: mikecane@aol.com

Paul Priestman
Priestman Goode
4 Broadstone Place, London, United Kingdom, W1H 3FJ
Telephone: +44 171 935 6665
Fax: +44 171 935 0668
E-mail: priestman@goode.demon.co.uk

  

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