Claws-on with the self-balancing Miposaur robot
We first saw WowWee's Miposaur robot at the London Toy Fair in January where it was self-balancing on two wheels similar to its older android sibling MiP. We recently tested out this T-rex's new features, which include an indoor GPS system for its TrackBall, a new phone app that extends the robot's abilities, and backwards compatibility with the old MiP to duke it out, virtual-laser-style.
The Miposaur dino bot
To balance and move on two wheels, like a Segway, the Miposaur uses the same inverted pendulum mechanism based on research from the UCSD Coordinated Robotics Lab as its predecessor. This feature was so striking in the orginal MiP that one of its games relied solely on its ability to balance while weights were stacked up on its front. The dino, however, is larger, more horizontal than vertical, and for stability can rest back on little plastic heels when not in motion.
Similar to the MiP, the Miposaur responds to 10 predefined hand gestures, such as a user covering its eyes, waving a hand in a circular motion, clapping, or pulling the dino's tail. Three sensors, one for sound and the others in front of and behind the head, control these gestures. Deliberate movement is the key for not getting frustrated controlling the dino in this way, but younger kids may find it hit-and-miss.
The Miposaur also comes with its own toy in the form of a ball to play with. Adding another dimension to the interaction, this independently moving TrackBall has six different modes and features the company's proprietary indoor GPS technology to create a spatial link between dino and its favorite toy. While the ball could roll faster than the dino could keep up, the dino's corrections were quick and accurate.
Some modes, like beatbox mode where the Miposaur will beatbox when in close proximity to the ball, feel like they could get boring quickly, but others are more interesting. For example, leash mode will see the android pet follow someone carrying the ball, while ball mode will see it channel its inner Ronaldo and chase and push the ball around.
While testing our little T. rex, we were impressed by its stability and agility despite its bulk of over a kilogram. Where the original MiP robot refuses to crash into surfaces, the Miposaur doesn't avoid collisions quite as well. However, this matched its "personality" as a manic dinosaur and felt more like aggression than bad navigation. Additionally, it feels durable and, even when we outright dropped it, its tail slotted back on with nary a chip.
We also weren't overly enthused by the robot's sound quality, but the volume is adjustable through the app. While the harsh, rough sounds did match the dinosaur's raging personality, they eventually became a little annoying in the pre-scripted interactions, like its dance music.
The many moods of Miposaur
The robot also features changeable moods, including excited, upset, or curious, which are based off the types of interactions given to it through the app or TrackBall – like virtually feeding it. These cues are more obvious when using the app, where the mood is displayed prominently, but the Miposaur will grumble, growl, get excited, and prance a bit, depending on how it's feeling.
However, the short-lived moods don't affect the play much. The dino does interact differently with its ball and gestures depending on its mood, but we found that a user, especially a kid, could change its mood quickly enough before realizing they were even doing so and miss the feedback they were getting. If you do like the Tamagotchi-style evolving personality, we'd suggest you use the app to get more feedback and be aware the interactions are relatively transient.
Setup is simple with a simple on/off switch on both devices getting them going. The app connects via Bluetooth LE and we didn't have a problem with creating that connection. However, if you do have more than one MiP or Miposaur, you will need to pay attention to which you're connecting to. While the MiP has its own app, it can still connect with the dino's app as well, minus a few of its functions.
The big and heavy dino uses four AA batteries and the ball takes four AAAs. We got by on one set for a couple hours of play, finally needing to replace them when the firmware update required more battery life. When batteries get low, the robot does get a little wobbly or sluggish.
WowWee does use firmware updates to change the robot itself, requiring the app to install the update. While we tested the Miposaur we received one firmware update and one app update on Android.
Miposaur app adds more ways to play
As with the original MiP, the free app is what really brings out the charms of the Miposaur. Interactions with the TrackBall feel a little scripted compared to the app. For example, the dino can only dance to its own prerecorded toy-like music when using the TrackBall, but through the app a user can pick any music file and a style to see the Miposaur respond in-sync with the beats.
The app also allows Miposaur to turn into a regular radio-controlled (RC) vehicle. The dino behaves differently when under user control, which turns collision detection off. This mode also highlights the difference between balancing and resting, with a button to switch between the two. While resting, the dino is back on its heels and attempting to drive will see it only clumsily steer in circles, but this position is good for taking pictures, resting, or for posing.
However, once balancing in RC mode the dino's controls are responsive and accurate and the dino is fast. What's even more amazing is that putting a good deal of pressure on its tail or nose in order to tip it only makes it shy away. It's extremely difficult to tip this thing over purely with force.
Interaction with the original MiP
One neat feature of the Miposaur is that the MiP android and the dino can face off in battle. Both need to be controlled by a user with the corresponding app, but the battles are pretty well-featured. The user has access to the RC controls, and the dino has a few different attacks, but no ability to turn on a camera to allow the user to line up shots as the MiP is able to do.
The length of battles depends on the driving ability of the participants and how much room they have to navigate in. My battles took about five minutes, becoming shorter and more fun as the drivers got better navigating with the RC controls (the RC controls are responsive and smooth, the drivers not so much).
The battles are primarily virtual like a game of laser tag, with a hit being recognized via the robot's sound effects and actions and also through effects in the app. The dino has a physical "tail sweep" attack that could knock a hapless MiP to the ground, highlighting again an interesting difference between the dino and its predecessor. The dino literally can't fall over, while the MiP seems simultaneously more fragile yet brave. I'm sorry, are we anthropomorphizing again?
You'd like the Miposaur if...
Right now, the Miposaur is posing in my living room, where its novelty has appealed to a few groups of houseguests. Its self-balancing act is definitely a unique crowd-pleaser.
Whether its novelty develops a more lasting appeal depends partially on WowWee. The company has two promised modes coming to a future app update that will offer a storybook mode and a Mipohunt, which seems like a virtual treasure hunt game. While the Miposaur is relatively inexpensive, the app seems the best way for WowWee to ensure that people keep finding a reason to turn the dino back on.
We found that the 6-10 years age group was a sweet spot, where the kids were young enough to be entertained by the silly interactions, but old enough to navigate the app with enough dexterity to engage in battles and RC mode. However, you need not worry that younger children will break the sturdy dino and they likely will engage with the intuitiveness of the TrackBall.
For adults, we find ourselves wondering when the maker community and the commercial toy market will overlap enough to get a programmable toy on a store shelf. An API on the Miposaur would be amazing and would ensure that it wasn't played with few times before being relegated to the bottom of the toy box. However, we haven't seen anything else comparable to its balancing locomotion and sometimes we found ourselves ignoring its extra features simply to watch it move. In that sense, the MiP, with its emphasis on how it balances, might be more of a toy for adults and the dino a winner with the kids.
Overall, the dino's best draws were modes that allowed some creativity and reuse, such as battling, remote control, dancing through the app, and watching the Miposaur endlessly chase its ball. We stalled on a couple of the more scripted modes and weren't thrilled with the sound effects, but especially with upcoming app updates, there's probably something for everyone with the Miposaur.
The Miposaur retails for US$119.99.
Below is WowWee's video detailing some of the features of the MiPosaur.
Product page: WowWee