New robot walks, talks and learns

That's right -- when I walk in the room, Zeno will look me in the eye and say, "Hi, Mike". Also a game store that only sells to kids who do their homework and a new USB gadget that gives you instant security.

In the future, home entertainment robots will converse with us and behave as virtual pets, security sentries, food-and-drink servers and silicon-based companions.

Sony's AIBO robot dog, which was put to sleep early last year, was to date the most promising line of home robots ever sold. Though appealing, friendly and programmable, AIBO was also expensive -- more than US$1,500.

Now, a new home robot has popped up on the horizon. Called Zeno, the humanoid-talking robot being developed by Hanson Robotics is modeled loosely after the Japanese comic character, Astro Boy.

Zeno, which is 17 inches tall and weighs 6 pounds, can walk, talk, learn and use your face and name, express faux "emotions" and even make eye contact with humans and family pets.

That's right. When I walk in the room, Zeno will look me in the eye and say, "Hi, Mike."

Rather than cramming all the robot brains into the robot itself, Zeno's intelligence is your own PC connected via Wi-Fi. This is how Hanson maximizes compute power while minimizing price. Zeno should cost less than US$300.

Early reports even suggest that Zeno connects to the Internet as part of how it learns about the world.

You'll be hearing a lot about Zeno starting next week. Hanson will unveil this creation at the NextFest conference in Los Angeles. We'll be watching this very interesting new product. It could become the first mainstream home robot.

Game store sells only to kids with good grades

Brandon Scott, a manager at a GameStop video game store in Dallas, won't sell PC games or video games to any minor unless an adult confirms that the youth is getting good grades in school. Scott also throws out any kids who use profanity in the store or wear their pants too low. And if any student can prove straight As, Scott will buy him a free video game.

USB gadget gives you instant security

A US$179 USB gadget called the Yoggie Pico Personal provides instant security on any Windows PC you plug it into. The drive holds 12 security applications, including anti-malware and a Linux-based firewall. And here's a neat trick: When you plug it in, it hides your system's IP address and instead uses its own. All functionality is controlled with a user-friendly, Web-based interface. You can set it on low, medium or high security, or customize individual security settings.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Mike Elgan

Computerworld

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