In 2004, a company called Wowwee Robotics created a robotic companion called Robosapien which forever revolutionized the way humans interacted with robots. It was the first commercially-available biomorphic robot, which means that the robot had both intelligence and personality. With more than 6 million units sold, it became one of the world’s most popular entertainment robots.
The breakthrough robot is only one of several of their award-winning robotics and entertainment products.
Founded by Canadians Richard and Peter Yanofsky, Wowwee Groups Limited is a Hong Kong-based company that began as an independent research & development and manufacturing outfit in 1982. They were originally an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) seller, and were behind such products as the Power Rangers Power Gloves and the Talking Tots dolls. However, when OEM orders began to decrease in 1987, the company decided to build and market toys under their own brand.
They came out with several products like T-Rex, a robotic dog named MegaByte and a line of remote controlled animals called the Animaltronics and Dinotronics. In 1998 a physicist/ roboticist named Mark Tilden went on board as a consultant. He later joined the company full-time and released the B.I.O. Bug as one of his first products. By this time the company had already been purchased by American multinational toy and board game corporation Hasbro. When Tilden’s B.I.O Bug did not do well in the market, the roboticist decided to focus his attention on developing Robosapien.
The Robosapien was canceled by Hasbro several times, but was ultimately released in 2004. In its first 5 months of sale, over 1.5 million units were sold. The Robosapien line continued to grow under Tilden’s work, and more advanced models like the Robosapien V2, Roboreptile, the RS Media and the RoboQuad came out on the market. Launched in 2005, the Robosapien V2 robot included a speech capability, and the RS Media robot, launched in 2006, featured a complete multimedia experience. In 2008, the RS Tri-Bot, dubbed the next generation robot, was released. The three-wheeled robot is a personality-packed companion built with varying play modes intended for hours of entertainment.
Other notable products by the company include the FlyTech Dragonfly, a collaboration with inventor Sean Frawler. The remote-control Dragonfly was named by TIME magazine as one of the inventions of the year in 2007. This led to other flying toys, like the Bladestar, also a helicopter, and the Butterfly, a wind-up ornithopter for younger children. The FlyTech Bladestar became the first ever flying toy equipped with sensor-based navigation. It was also one of the 20 products awarded by Popular Mechanics magazine with an “Editor’s Choice Award” in 2008, citing the toy as a technologically advanced innovation.
The Wowwee Robotics line continued to become even more popular, appearing in the McDonald’s Happy Meal brand in 2007 and in museums and exhibits across the United States. In 2008 several new products like the Rovio robot and the Femisapien were announced, and the rights to Robosapien were sold to movie producers.
Today, Wowwee is bigger than ever, with five distinct product lines available to consumers, specifically WowWee Robotics™, WowWee Paper Jamz™, WowWee Alive™, WowWee FlyTech™, WowWee Technologies™. These products are innovations that can either walk, talk, purr, fly, and even enable remote telepresence communications, as well as allow the use of portable pico-projectors. Along with millions of other robotics fans, I can’t what this giant, genius team of engineers, designers and business people will come up with next.