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History of Robotic Gaming™

We are presently at the dawn of Robotic Gaming™. Nevertheless in the pages below we will chronicle the progression leading up to today. In each step we will try to show the significance of the step that was taken and the contrast to today's Robotic Gaming™.


~1950 - The Slot Car

The first step toward Robotic Gaming™ was arguably the slot car. Slot cars represent the first time controls were given to electromechanical devices for the purpose of playing a game. This combination obviously hit a nerve with kids and adults alike. According to slot car historian John Ford, slot car racing started in England after WWII and by 1968 there were more slot racing facilities than bowling alleys. Slot cars are a very special entry in this historical survey - in some ways the slot car could be called the grandfather of Robotic Gaming™. It's remarkable that slot car technology included wireless control and wireless power transfer. Any other solution i.e. tethered control, tethered power, battery operation, would have extinguished their amazing success (see comments regarding these features at the bottom of the What is Robotic Gaming™ page).


~1977 - Star Wars

The first Star Wars movie, released in 1977, contained a scene involving something like Robotic Gaming™. In this scene, set aboard the Millennium Falcon, Luke and Chewy were playing a board game with 3D characters moving about and fighting. The characters appeared as if they were holographic projections (simulated by movie special effects of course), but the idea was very similar to that of Robotic Gaming™.


~ 1983 - R.O.B.

Nintendo's R.O.B. or Robotic Operating Buddy, is a small robot that connected to the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System). R.O.B. could play different games. Apparently only two games were available, Gyromite, and Stack-Up. The player could control R.O.B., who's actions became inputs for the NES game. This toy was one of the earliest attempts to merge video games and robots. However, R.O.B. + NES does not fit the definition of Robotic Gaming above - there was no hardware for position sensing. In other words, if two R.O.B.'s could be connected to the same NES, the NES could not command its rob to follow yours. No chasing, no racing, no combat, not anything that requires R.O.B. to be able to know where he is or where you are. R.O.B. was really nothing more than a robot connected to a blind game system.


~ 1998 - Furby

Furby represents one of the first and most popular interactive robotic toys. Furby was marketed as a smart toy with the ability to learn and interact with its owner. Furby helped define the term "interactive" to consumers and spawned a series of interactive toys including those that could communicate with one-another.


~ 1998 Robo-Cup

Robo-Cup is a competition where robot teams play soccer against one-another on a special small-scale field. The competition was put together to "foster AI and intelligent robotics research by providing a standard problem where wide range of technologies can be integrated and examined."

Robo-Cup is not a toy, but hopefully the technologies that come out of it might someday make it into the next generation of Robotic Gaming™ toys. For now, though, a typical game setup is far beyond the means of typical consumers. The competition is structured so that once the game is started, the user cannot communicate with the robots in any way. The robots must navigate the field, find the ball, and play the game on their own. The real game is played by the programmers who program the robots to act autonomously.


~ 1999 Aibo

Sony's Aibo robot is probably the most capable and intelligent robot on the market. Options are available that give the Aibo vision, sound, etc. Click here for a brief history. The Aibo is so capable it is able to participate in the Robo-Cup competition.


~ 2000 WonderBorg

Bandai's WonderBorg is an interactive robot bug that is programmed through a PC to react to its environment using various on-board sensors. WonderBorg demonstrated the effectiveness of an array of on-board sensors packed in a small robot. Users could program the WonderBorg with responses to the various sensor inputs. WonderBorg was a fairly sophisticated interactive toy, but did not qualify as a Robotic Gaming™ toy for many reasons. There was no centralized control or no position sensing, so there was no ability for these toys to participate in a game at the level defined by Robotic Gaming™. (See definition of Robotic Gaming.)


~2001 - Konami Combat DigiQ RC Tanks

The Konami Combat DigiQ RC Tanks are controlled by IR and can "shoot" IR beams at each other. They distinguish themselves from many other toys (for example, micro RC cars) because they have the additional combat sensors much like laser tag. Gaming can be fun and interesting since up to four people can control tanks - and people make challenging opponents. However, this is not Robotic Gaming™ in that there is no centralized controller that can participate, or even keep score. The DigiQ tanks are nothing more than RC toys with a firing gimmick.


~199? Lego Mindstorm

Lego Mindstorm is essentially a robotics lab including programmable computer control.


~ 2000 I-Robot

I-Robot is developing technologies that at least look like they may be applicable to Robotic Gaming™. The Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner roams autonomously using bumpers to navigate a room.



It is the goal of this website to present a thorough account of Robotic Gaming™ past, present, and future. If you know of other toys, games, movies, references, etc. that should be included in this historical overview, please contact history@roboticgaming.com. All comments and recommendations are welcome in order to keep this page fun to read, interesting, and historically accurate.


This site is dedicated to following the growth of Robotic Gaming™. Bookmark this site to keep abreast of all the latest developments in this exciting revolution.




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Last modified: August 24, 2003