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R2D2 shapes up as the real gadget star

by Peter Crookes

In the 70-odd years since the advent of talkies, how big a movie star you are has been measured by how many lines of dialogue you get. Presumably these need to be uttered in a language known to at least some members of humanity. R2D2, the robot droid of Star Wars legend, defied that convention to grab more than his share of the billing while emitting lots of sounds but not a syllable of it intelligible to anybody who was not a script writer. Proof of his enduring appeal is to be had in the latest gadgets rendered in his image.

Toy maker Nikko has come out with a video projector and DVD player in one package that looks just like, no drum roll needed, the pint-sized robot with the liking for blue and silver. In the spirit of all things from another galaxy the remote control unit looks like a miniature Millennium Falcon, the spaceship that also grabbed its share of the limelight without the need for vocal cords. The whole R2D2 unit weighs in at 8 kg and measures 34x33x52 cm and costs 388,000 yen. The device includes an iPod dock and a memory card reader. The projector, which shines forth from the top of R2D2′s metallic skull ala his debut in the original “Star Wars”, is a DLP with XGA resolution, 1500 lumens and a contrast ratio of 1800:1.

Taking the emulation act a step further Nikko has also produced an R2D2 USB-operated Web camera that again bears a striking resemblance to the droid. And in a final out-of-this-galaxy touch, the company has brought out a Skype phone that is shaped like a Star Wars light saber. More information on the company’s galaxy of Star Wars gadgets is available at: www.nikko-group.com/japan/main.html and may the force of fandom be with you.

Easy exercise: The biggest problem with exercising is that it takes so much energy. It would all be so much easier if we could get our daily dose of aerobics without having to get out of bed. A company after my own heart, Panasonic, hasn’t got there yet but they have taken a chunk out of the burden with their new exercise gadget the “Raku Raku Walk” (Easy Walk). Essentially it is an adjustable seat that is paired with the standard Stairmaster paddles. You set yourself up in a leaning position with your feet on the paddles, derriere supported on the seat in what is basically a leaning back position with your knees bent and hands on the arm rests out front. The intention is to allow you to have an aerobic workout without giving your knees grief. The gadget is slated to come out in September at a price to be announced. Interested parties please follow the link: www.nikko-group.com/japan/main.html

Computer gaming: Darts ranks right up there with chess as a “sport” that demands real athletic commitment. So, naturally it should follow the hallowed mind game in getting jazzed up for the computer age. Epoch has met the pressing need with its PC-Darts device. It looks like a standard darts board except that you plug this one into the USB port on your computer. You just play away and your score is displayed for one and all on your computer’s monitor. The gadget also includes various game modes for the true competitors. Of course laziness does come at a price, in this case 31,290 yen. The unit is available now in Japan with more information at: tv-darts.epoch.jp/pc/

Phone fashions: Keitais turned into fashion accessories in this country long ago. Since changing the look of your phone every day is a bit of a challenge, most of us rely on the strap and other hangers-on as the best means for personalization. StrapYa has made a whole industry out of these add-ons with a mind-bogglingly varied range. Their latest additions are a selection of Japanese gangster dolls inspired by the manga “Crows and Worst,” all dressed and gelled up for business, though without the skin art on display. The little crime benders are available at item.rakuten.co.jp/keitai/288-172681-bk/ for 1,029 yen.

Moody machines: Teeny little pet robots are just the cutest, most useless accessory that somebody just has to have. Takara Tomy’s latest one is Rocobo, which looks like some pieces of Lego with legs and flippers, not to mention a liking for floral decor. It also comes with a digital face that smiles, laughs, cries, complains, gets sick, sings karaoke and, just to be more than human, tells your fortune. There is also something called a secret mode. The newest addition to the family comes out in August for 1,344 yen each and will be available through Amazon Japan.

Man’s best gadget: Trying again to show that people can copy nature but do a better job of it, SegaToys will launch another animal robot in October, MIO the pooch. The computerized canine looks like, well, a robot dog, and has built-in sensors that help it to display its moods via its big puppy-dog LCD “eyes.” MIO has a taste for music and will be the size of a more modest dog at about 40 cm in length. It will carry a price tag of 9,240 yen with details to be had at: www.segatoys.co.jp/mio/index.html It is cheaper than the real thing though how well house trained it is only experience will tell.