Robotoddler 2.0: A user's guide

The Japanese develop a toddler robot. Here's a humorous look at the next generation mechanical child.

The Associated Press reports that Japanese scientists have developed a robot that acts like a toddler. CB2 wobbles like a child learning to walk and rocks back and forth. I'm happy to be able to provide some information on the next version of the robot.

Tantrum Function: CB2-V2 responds to a variety of inputs by rolling around on the floor, screaming and throwing little toy trucks. Some stimuli that produce the tantrum reaction are:

• Being presented with a grilled cheese sandwich cut into squares rather than triangles.

• Being given just one cookie.

• Not being allowed to wear the Superman costume to church.

Selective Language Acquisition: In V2, the language function more closely mimics human toddlers' patterns. It will take roughly 200 exposures before it learns to say "please" and "thank you" when handed a cup of juice. It will take 500 exposures before it learns to say "I'm sorry" after hitting another robot on the head. It will take just one exposure to learn to say, "moron!" when a car cuts his "mom" off in traffic.

Fear Response: CB2-V2 has a "fear feature," which is an important mechanism for self-preservation. The robot is learning to protect itself from harmful situations. A toddler's fear can be difficult for adults to understand, so the user's manual lists common triggers.

The Fear Response is triggered by:

• Vacuum cleaners.

• Monsters, especially invisible ones.

• Elderly relatives who want to kiss them.

The Fear Response is not triggered by:

• Knives.

• Electrical sockets.

• Balconies of tall buildings.

Media Appreciation: A key enhancement of the V2 is its sophisticated discernment when it comes to media. It shows its enjoyment of TV shows by ceasing all actuator motion and staring, unblinking, at the screen. It's not programmed to prefer any particular shows, but it appreciates dramas with bright colors, talking animals, and characters who spontaneously break into song.

Culinary Development: Toddlerhood is a time of strong opinions about food. CB2-V2 does not neglect this area of development. It is virtually impossible to convince the V2 to ingest a food that it finds unappealing, due to the long timer value in V2's Stubbornness component. But occasionally the robot can tolerate unwanted food if it's arranged on the plate like a smiley face or tiny trees.

Food It Prefers:

• Carbohydrates, especially when in the shape of Arthur the aardvark.

• Ketchup.

• Food in a color not found in nature.

Food It Declines:

• Vegetables, except French fries.

• Foods that touch, or have touched, another food.

• Meat, unless tube-shaped or encased in breading.

Independent Behavior: The CB2-V2 does not just react to stimuli; it initiates activities on its own. If these activities appear to be odd, that's because of the cutting edge "random behavior generator" in its motherboard. Often the robot takes a familiar action and randomizes it:

• Dresses itself, but combines a plaid shirt with flowered pants.

• Prepares a meal for its "parent" consisting of peanut butter, pancake syrup, and grapes.

• Performs a musical number for the family's enjoyment by using a cooking pot and metal spoon for percussion.

Future Developments: Scientists appear poised to announce a new device – a preteen robot. Features are said to include an embedded magnet that provides an unbreakable attraction to the Internet, an "eye-rolling" function, and an MP3 player permanently affixed to its ears.

Jody Mace is a freelance writer in Charlotte, N.C.

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