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Littlest Pet Shop CatHasbro is currently selling  a series of keychain virtual pets called Littlest Pet Shop Digital Pets. Each one has a nice snap at the top for attaching it to you backpack or belt loop, a charm indicating which pet it is, and two tools to care for the pet. The tools are typically a brush and feeding device.

The series includes a cat, mouse, bunny, hamster, monkey, bird, duck, frog, and an iguana. Each pet includes about 30 games to play.

Littlest Pet Shop Mouse When you finish an activity you get virtual stickers for your pet’s digital diary.

You feed and brush them using the special tools.

The examples shown here are the cat (top) and the mouse.

Hasbro has posted the basic instructions for Littlest Pet Shop Digital Pets online.

These digital pets are an outgrowth of the Littlest Pet Shop line of small physical collectible pets and playsets, mostly targeting young girls introduced by Hasbro in early 2005 (see 18 Feb 2005 press release).  In early 2006 they added the digital pets (see 9 Feb 2006 press release). The brand continued to do well and they have continued to expand. In June 2007 Hasbro announced they would start licensing the brand, and expand even further from their backpacks, t-shirts, stationery, and game books. They are looking more products for tween girls including costume jewelry, hair accessories, watches, a new cell phone, pens, greeting cards, calendars, candy, valentines, etc.

The brand is supported by its own web site, Littlest Pet Shop.

Test Tube Aliens from 4Kidz

Test Tube Aliens

We find these pets extremely interesting. Although somewhat basic, they reopen an old category (Sea Monkeys) and open a new one (direct Internet to virtual pet interaction via flashing lights) that may provide many opportunities for future virtual pet designers.

The brief instructions below come from their online instruction manual. You can also watch a YouTube video from 4Kidz on how to start one up.

Caring For a Test Tube Alien:

You get a clear cylinder with the alien contained inside a white blob they call a cocoon with a tranpsort stick in the top of it. Take the lid (feeding hatch) off the test tube. Remove and discard the transport stick.  With the alien cocoon in it, hold your test tube over the sink and fill it full of water. The cocoon will dissolve, fizz and run over. Keep adding water till the fizzing stops.

When the alien emerges from the cocoon its heart will begin to flash (an led). It is now alive. Drain the test tube and wash it out several times. It is very important to remove all of the hatching residue.

Get a cup of glass and mix some of the prepackaged food that came for your alien. It is called Sloog. Use the package marked “1st Feeding”. Mix it with about 150ml of water, then very slowly pour it into the test tube till it comes about half way up the alien’s antennae and put the lid (feeding hatch) back on.

Too little food (water level too low) and you alien is starving and his heart starts flashing orange, just right and his heart flashed red, too much he starts to drow and his heart flashes green.

Feed you alien Sloog for the next 14 days and he will grow into an adult. Once full grown, he can live on tap water.

He also needs exactly 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. If given too much light he will panic and his heart will race. Too much dark and his heart slows down.

Now for the cool part. Your alien can respond directly to the Internet at www.testtubealiens.com. First you have to register your pet online, then hold them up to the screen in a darkened room and the computer will send a series of flashes to the controller in the pet to interrogate it. The pet will respond with a series of lights you record on the site. The web site will then tell you the aliens age and how many times it has been left too long in the light or dark. You can even place it in suspended animation (coma mode), or “provoke” it.

Wikipedia on How Test Tube Aliens Works:

The white blob (cocoon) you start with contains a polymer called Polyacrylamide. The polymer soaks up water and expands up to 8 times its original size. The “Sloog” you feed you alien is actually slowing their growth. “Sloog” contains a week acid that slows the expansion of the polymer so it occurs over several days instead of almost all at once.

The alien senses the acid through electrodes on the end of its antennae. They also detect water level.

The website interacts with a light detector in the aliens head. The alien then responds to the flashes.

Good Aliens and Bad Aliens

At the moment there are six different aliens. Three are good and three are bad. They don’t really act good or bad. You only determine that by their name. When you buy one it comes with its name on the box.

Kurion – Good

Yagoni – Good

Tatsuni – Good

Namako – Evil

Takon – Evil

Shako – Evil

The storyline is they come from a dying planet called Naratuko. Your test tube simulates that environment until they can find a new planet to colonize.

Their website, Test Tube Aliens, is well done, colorful and interesting.  It also has three online games, one of which resembles Space Invaders (drops good and bad aliens in test tubes and you launch missiles at the ones not on your side).

We find the Test Tube Alien concept pretty interesting, but have a little concern about young children and the “Sloog” as well as with them directly handling the aliens.

In the late 1950’s Sea Monkeys (a kind of brine shrimp) were first sold as a kit called “Instant Life” by Harold von Braunhut. You added some packets to water for a few days and a real, live Sea Monkey colony began to grow and could be raised with minimal care. They were not a virtual pet, but pretty close to it.

Back in 2004,  Mattel licensed Video Encoded Invisible Light (VEIL) from VEIL Interactive and used it in some Batman toys that responded to the TV show. The early toys were a bit expensive, but VEIL technology would also seemingly allow the TV or Internet to directly communicate with a virtual pet.

4Kidz does a nice job of just using some flashes as all they need is a low bandwidth signal to request output from the pet. You then key that output (identify which lights it turns on) into the computer and it reads the output for you.

This same flashing technique could be used with more traditional plush, robotic, or keychain virtual pets and  is in no way limited to the wet test tube pets in this example. Yes, you could just flip some switch on the pet to request the readout, but its much cooler when the web site requests it directly.

Password Puppies

Girl Tech claims Password Puppies are the first voice activated virtual pet for girls. They can be named and trained by talking to them. The puppy can sit, roll over, and dance. It comes with a nice fold out stand and a few control buttons in a pawprint layout.

The puppy will only respond to your voice. It uses similar technology from their Password Journal, a notebook diary that can only be unlocked by your voice.

Aquapict JellyfishBanpresto’s Aquapict Jellyfish led light has been a huge hit in Japan.  Its sort of a mood light made from virtual aquarium that needs no attention. You just turn it on and three very lifelike jellyfish made of silicon randomly float around. Each aquarium contains 12 different colors of lights.

After two hours, it automatically turns itself off and awaits its next use.

The instructions, in Japanese, are relatively easy. Fill the tank with water to the marked level, soak the jellyfish in water for about 30 minutes (do not touch them), put them in the tank (do not touch them), put the lid on the tank, plug it in.

The tank holds about 1.5 liters, has a mirrored bottom, a black background (card) you attach to the tank. It also comes with an instructional DVD and a small paddle to push the jellyfish around if they get stuck to the side.

Its about 27cm X 21 cm X 12 cm in size.

Vboy and V GirlYou can date 8 different partners of the opposite sex, each with their own personality ranging from mild to wild.

You keep your partner happy by buying them gifts, giving them compliments, taking them out on dates, and doing things with them.

If you want to dump them, give them bad presents and insult them.

It takes two LR44 batteries just like Tamagotchi did.

This game is NOT suitable for children.

Photo from Firebox.com

Panasonic Carpet

Panasonic showed a new fiber at the Tokyo Fiber 2007 Senseware Exposition in late June 2007. Other reports indicate it could have been introduced at a similar show in Omotesando in late April.  Panasonic’s new patent pending No-Constraints carpet available in white, brown, and a combination of white/black that looks like a skunk’s tail comes in two large snake shaped lengths (1.5 meters and 7 meters). The carpet has “built in” heating units that only warm the portion of the carpet you are touching to give it a lifelike, cuddly feeling. There intended purpose appears to be as “warmers”, something to wrap up with on the couch on a cool night or curl around your feet. Its very easy to image plush virtual pets that warm to your touch built from this fabric.

It looks like they currently actually “plug into” the wall via a longer thinner hair cord (see the white tail running to top right corner of the image from the skunk colored snake). Control panels for the snakes are modeled after paw pads. Cuddled virtual pets would need to be battery or solar powered and heat takes a lot of power. They might somehow be able to reflect heat from the user to feel more lifelike?

We have seen some microwaveable dolls (built with the small heating beads called thera-beads, thermi-beads,  medi-beads, etc.) that can be heated and then held. But not seen true heated virtual pets to date that I recall.

The photo comes from IN-duce on Flickr.

Back in the early days we thought caring for a virtual pet could be a training ground for caring for a “real” pet. Now we see things have gone one step further down the ladder. A bookstore in Fairhope Alabama is now offering a workshop on how to care for a virtual pet, more specifically, how to properly care for a Webkinz in the Webkinz online community.

Per a BaldwinCountyNow.com article dated July 18, 2007, Page & Pallete Bookstore will offer the workshop on Saturday afternoon “due to popular demand.”  It will focus on the fun things kids can do online with their pet and how to care for their virtual pets. A local chiropractor will talk “about the importance of selecting healthy foods for themselves and their Webkinz.”

The chiropractor said her goal is to “teach the children why it’s important to feed their Webkinz well.”

By the way, the store is selling Webkinz and has a promotional punch card tracking your purchases. Buy 5 and you get one free.

Maybe there is a market for “imaginary pets” kids can care for to work their way up to caring for virtual pets?

The full article titled, Workshop Invites Children to Enter the World of Virtual Pets,  is available from BaldwinCountyNow.com

QR Code from Virtual Pets BlogThe QR Code at left says “Greetings from the Virtual Pets Blog. Help us encourage greater utilization of QR Codes in Virtual Pets.”

QR Codes are basically two dimensional bar codes invented in Japan by Denso Wave. They can store several dozen to a few hundred times more information than ordinary bar codes.

QR code can handle numbers, alphabetic characters, Kanji, Hiragana, symbols, binary, and control codes. Up to 7,089 characters can be stored in one symbol.

Error correction can be used to restore partially damaged QR Codes and they are readable from any direction.

QR Code Reader Equipped cellphones can “read” the code from a photograph taken by the cell phone. You just take a picture of it and your cell phone acquires the content of the QR Code symbol, and it takes action based on that content. They are frequently used to acquire URLs (take of photo of a QR Code and your cell phone immediately displays the web site of what you are looking at), email addresses, business cards, etc.

Some virtual pets in Japan eat “real” food that you scan the QR codes from. Among them are Sodatete Bebi Q, a mobile phone virtual pet game that raises a character called “Puchi Q” (see Sodatete Press Release 13 July 2006) and Trident a mobile virtual pet from Preamble Corp (see Trident web site) . The Trident pet battles other similar pets and fights according to how well it eats.

QR codes can be printed on almost anything: products, magazines, newspapers, flyers, billboards, business cards, instruction sheets, clothing, the sidewalk, we even seen examples of them online printed directly onto peanuts, shrimp crackers (see image below) , and a pretty girl’s back at a trade show booth (see image below). You take a picture of them with your cell phone and it immediately jumps to the company’s web site or displays other information imbedded in the QR code.

QR Code on a CrackerQR Code girlWe see many opportunities to tie mobile virtual pets to products, places, foods, magazines, books, and other activities. The whole field could explode as internet phones become more widely available in the U.S..

Promoters could even set up something similar to GPS Art / GPS Drawing. They could use a map to setup the outline of a virtual pet in a city (physical locations to drive/walk around as if driving/walking around the outline of the pet), then mark several locations around the perimeter with oversize QR Codes (like the east wall of some store, the sidewalk in a park, the floor in a mall, a billboard, etc). Users could download a map with the sequence list of those locations, go around the marked locations taking photos of the QR Codes, and at the end they could “see” a photo of the outline of the virtual pet drawn on their community similar to GPS art. Once they completed the outline they could be given a download of that pet, a prize, a chance at a prize, etc. These sound like great tie ins to local radio stations.

Basically they are drawing a sketch of a virtual pet out during their path around the city (or even more locally if the entire outline was within a mall or even within a classroom). In real life, since GPS is not included in the system, promoters could even fib a bit about exact placement of the markers and still place them correctly on the map to draw out the character. Or they could say to heck with it, and just have you go to a half dozen locations wherever they want to “earn” the pet or to “feed” it. They could even make users search a bit for the slightly hidden marked locations (sort of like geocaching).

Countless other opportunities exist. For instance schools and universities could draw out their campus mascot by placement of QR codes around the campus. Students could acquire the mascot as a pet in their cell phone by taking pictures of the QR codes in sequence as they walk around the campus. Businesses on campus might even pay money to host a QR Code in their place of business to draw in traffic. The university could encourage students to feed their mascot by taking pictures of QR codes in the daily campus newsppaper, codes at the football stadium, codes setup for special events, etc. Special drives / promotions before major university sporting events could increase the strength of their mascot in anticipation of the big game, etc. Facebook recently began allowing 3rd party applications to be used there. Campus mascot virtual pets could now reside on your own Facebook page (and be rapidly adopted by others as they begin to participate).

The virtual pet’s outline in town could also be a a poor man’s GPS (if they had a cellphone). Just take a picture of one of the QR Code locations around town and your phone could show you where you are on a map AND tell you where to buy cool stuff nearby at advertisers paying for being embedded in the game.

And QR Code is not just for mobile virtual pets. You could email your photo of a QR Code to your computer, then all the possibilities of mobile phone virtual pets using QR Codes are now possible on your computer (except you computer has a lot more computing power and higher resolution making them even more exciting).

It could also be extended to plush pets with online communities (like Webkins). If you go to certain locations (advertisers, public displays, etc) and take a photo of the QR Code there you could gain additional abilities, virtual money, toys, etc in the online virtual pet community game.

Yes, some people might post photos as”cheats” but that is part of most games now days too, plus you could keep adding new sites and QR Codes to stay ahead of them (and to keep bringing in new advertising dollars.)

Several pet food companies already have virtual pet games. Why not have users take a photo of or scan in a QR Code on the actual pet food packaging? Its gets them interacting with your “real” products. A few “real” pets are now carrying QR Code on their collars as the owners contact information.

Back in 2004, Pringles was printing trivia questions on potato chips. You could even put QR Codes on your own MySpace / Facebooks sites, Second Life, etc. The possibilities of places to print QR Codes are endless. The bottom line is QR Codes offer many untapped opportunities for virtual pet designers.

You can learn more about QR Codes from Wikipedia and Denso Wave .

And you can generate your own QR Codes, like the one at the beginning of this post at qrcode.kaywa.com

If you are interested applying GPS Art / GPS Drawing concepts in virtual pets, the GPS Drawing Gallery has several examples of drawing animals through out the world. The Brighton Elephant in the U.K. is a great example. If you designing an elephant virtual pet in the U.K. you could just pickup their map and place some QR Codes around the perimeter and be up and running in a hurry.

Hello Kitty Functions

Business Design Laboratory, NEC System Technologies, and Futuba Industrial Company collaborated in development of Hello Kitty ROBO released November 1st, 2004 to celebrate the Sanrio character’s 30th birthday. It sits about 52 cm tall, has a moving head and arms, its eyes are video cameras that can recognize different human faces (up to ten different people), and it can talk to you.

About 20,000 patterns of conversation were preprogrammed into the robot. Plus it builds on its history by visiting with you. Hello Kitty displays emotion by tilting or nodding its head, moving its arms and its whiskers can flicker in two different colors.

Hello Kitty Robot was initially sold for about 400,000 yen (about $3,300 U.S. dollars).

Futaba Industrial was the manufacturer. They previously built ifbot, a therapyifbot robot that looked like an astronaut, designed by Business Design Laboratory which began shipping in April 2003. ifbot was sometimes called the Dream Supply Yori-soi ifbot and sold for about 604,800 yen. It could visit with you, act as a calculator, play memory games, provide advice and collect medical information.

See Business Design Laboratory’s 12 July 2004 Press Release for additional information on the initial Hello KittyROBO.

Hello KittyHello Kitty ROBO is now being updated to Hello Kitty Robot and its price is being marked up to about $6,300 U.S. The new version will include stereo cameras, voice recognition, ultrasonic ranging and can tell when it has been picked up. It sounds like they are marketing it as a parenting aid (baby sit / entertain your kid when you are busy).

 

A 23 July 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal titled, Online Popularity Contest Next in Barbie-Bratz Brawl, reports MGA will be releasing their own online social networking site, Be-Bratz, on August 1st.

MGA’s Bratz has been gaining ground on Mattel’s Barbie the last several years, but Mattel’s new online world, Barbie Girls, has been a huge success and is helping them pull out further in front again. Plus they have received a tremendous amount of free publicity recently in coverage of Barbie Girls audience growing from zero at rates faster than any other major online social networking site. We even covered it here. Mattel stock took a nice jump for several days surrounding the announcement, but has since settled back down.

The Be-Bratz site will require purchase of a special Bratz doll (like Webkins requires the purchase of a pet) to participate. But the Bratz doll comes with a special USB key (thumb drive). You can choose your on screen name, a Bratz avatar that can be dressed to your specs or a custom character designed from scratch, you can customize rooms, chat with other users, “buy” clothes for your avatar at an online store using virtual currency you earn by playing the game. An online theater will show clips from the Bratz movie to be released August 3rd (looks like they are tying the online world to the movie release date for cross promotion).

The Barbie site does have some additional features if you buy a $60 MP3 player with a USB port. Mattel especially thinks the MP3 player will help them win back some of the older preteen girls.

Both sites try to address the dangers young people face online. They restrict free chatting and force the use of predetermined scripted messages and do not allow the display of personal information (names and addresses).

But, as the Journal mentions, even with all their efforts, Be-Bratz will be similar to Barbie Girls which has been online since April – and you don’t have to buy a doll to participate. MGA CEO Isaac Larian says any similarities between the sites are only coincidence and that he’s never visited the Mattel site.

As the battle heats up between them, both companies report they have committed to two year research and development timelines, boosting inhouse design operations, hiring outside programmers, and using lots of girls in focus groups.

The two companies continue to fight in court over the actual rights to Bratz with Mattel claiming Carter Bryant, the designer of Bratz, was employed by them when he did the initial Bratz designs. MGA now accuses Mattel of copying Bratz designs into their “My Scene” Barbie line.

The battle between these two companies will now be moving forward on four fronts:

1. In the stores – Doll & doll accessory sales

2. In the theaters & on DVD – both companies have movie

3. Online – Barbie Girls vs. Be-Bratz

4. In the courtroom – legal rights to Bratz design

Looks like there will not be a lot of love lost between MGA and Mattel for a while, unless a common enemy comes on the scene (like a new hot doll from Japan?)

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