We don't usually post unverified rumors about robot products. But in this particular case the source is very credible and the information does match our previous experience with both the pre-production and commercial i-SOBOT versions, so we're going to pass it on to our readers.
We also believe that TOMY wouldn't consider any 'on the record' confirmation, especially since one exciting aspect of these rumors opens the door to some really extreme hacking of the robot. Keep in mind that although there is a good chance that they are true, the 'rumors' below are currently unconfirmed.
Tsukumo Robot Kingdom in Akihabara is without a doubt the most well known hobby and experimenter robot shop both inside and outside of Japan. They carry almost every type of robot, robot kits, parts, accessories, magazines, books - you name it and they have it if it has anything to do with robots.
Because of their visibility and credibility within the robot community they frequently have access to the latest information and insider scuttlebutt (leaks). So it wasn't too surprising to find them posting some really exciting i-SOBOT rumors on their blog.
Note: The sections in italics are our interpretation of the Tsukumo blog post in Japanese.
- The initial production lots of i-SOBOTs currently being delivered to customers use flash ROMs. Tsukumo speculates that some daring customers might be able to re-flash the ROMs to modify the i-SOBOTs sounds and other functionality. The follow-on production lots will switch to non-flash ROMS.
Amazingly cool! Elmo-SOBOT or Homer-SOBOT anyone?
Frankly, it's way beyond our meager hacking ability, and definitely not for the faint of heart. Still, we're sure that some customers will attempt it, and a few of them will succeed. If you try it, even if you're not successful, be sure to send us a write-up and some photos. We'd love to publish an i-SOBOT tear-down, but don't have the guts to break ours open since we'd never manage to get it back together again in working condition.
- Color versions are planned. Tsukumo mentions that in addition to the current white (Japan) and black (US) versions there are plans for a black version to be released in Japan some time in 2008 along with other possible colors.
This isn't too surprising. It's a common strategy among toy makers like TOMY to release custom color versions for specific retail partners like Sharper Image or the Discovery Store. We've always liked the original pink i-SOBOT prototype the best, so it's interesting to speculate that a Hello Kitty-SOBOT could eventually appear on store shelves.
- The next generation i-SOBOT with the built-in video camera and wireless connectivity is tentatively planned for a 2008 introduction.
This fits with what we've heard before, and makes a lot of sense. A mid to late 2008 roll out would give the next version great positioning for the 2008 holiday buying season without having a negative impact on sales of the current version.
- Although the i-SOBOT manufacturing is done in China, some critical performance parts - specifically the servo gears - are made in Japan.
Servo gears are typically the most highly stressed, and therefore the most likely to fail, component in a humanoid robot, so it's easy to understand why TOMY has paid so much attention to making sure they are high reliability. In addition to the special gears they also included clutches on all the servos.