I’ve always loved toys that have more than meets the eye. Hidden spring-loaded projectiles. Secret passages in my LEGO sets. And of course, Transformers toys. But while many of the best toys rely on a healthy imagination, it always felt like the Transformers were a little too slow for make-believe skirmishes and adventures; the good ones took far longer to turn into a robot than they did in the show.
That’s why I’m sad I didn’t personally attend CES in Las Vegas this year — where you can see an unofficial Transformer toy that transforms from car to robot all by itself. You can literally say “Transform,” one of several voice commands, and the Robosen T9 will do so.
And that’s just the beginning: with 22 programmable servo motors, this 3.2 pound robot can walk, drive, pose, dance, even do some push-ups on cue. You can program new gestures with a few different interfaces on tablet or phone, including the popular kid-friendly Scratch visual programming language that other beginner robots often use, and control it directly with a touchscreen joystick and buttons as well.
And though I wasn’t at CES to see it myself, my colleague Vjeran Pavic captured some fantastic footage of it in action, some of which I’ve screencapped for you:
The downsides? Well, you’ll have to pay a sky-high $500 to get your hands on one of these, for starts. That’s how much it costs at Amazon already (it’s $550 at Banggood), and the company says $500 is the right number — even though a Kickstarter campaign from earlier this year suggested the final retail price might be closer to $400. It’ll also be available later this year at some retail stores including Micro Center, the company confirms.
Vjeran also says it looked a little plasticy in person, there’s no camera for your spy missions, and it also doesn’t exactly drive like a car in its car mode. It needs to bend its body just to manage a shallow turn:
And of course, it doesn’t look much like a real car. Originally, they built a pretty convincing approximation of a transforming Optimus Prime semi — back when the company was known as SenPower — but they later evolved towards something that lies somewhere between “hot rod” and “moon rover”.
Here’s an earlier design, which would have been far better for nostalgia value:
Perhaps they just couldn’t get the rights from toymaker Hasbro.
Anyhow, $500 is a bit too much for me to pay for a robot that’s not going to vacuum my entire house, but it’s not totally out of line for a kid-at-heart with a sizable budget. The Lego Star Wars Ultimate Collectors Series Millennium Falcon is still $800, after all, and DJI’s drifting pellet-shooting laser-tag playing programmable robot tank is also $500.
Me, I’ll probably just watch the rest of this 18-minute Korean video of someone quietly playing with most every feature to satisfy myself that I’ve seen what it can do… and hope future versions will bring the price down.
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