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
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
For more information, contact:
Cambridge Design Partnership
The Old Horse-Yard,
Comberton Road, Toft
Cambridge, United Kingdom, CB3 7RY
+44 1223 264428
Fax: +44 1223 264419
4 Broadstone Place, London, United
Kingdom, W1H 3FJ
Telephone: +44 171 935 6665
Fax: +44 171 935 0668