What is Robotic Gaming™ ?
The term Robotic Gamingä implies a certain set of capabilities that distinguishes itself from other types of games or interactive robot toys. It is the beginning of the final leg of an overall evolution that started years ago. Slot cars are arguably the very first step in that evolution - the Cro-Magnon of Robotic Gaming™. The final step would be fully articulated, artificially intelligent, walking, talking, seeing robots that are self-aware and love to play games! Obviously the technology required for this is many years off! However, the technology exists today for toys that break the barrier into this paradigm and truly qualify as Robotic Gaming™.
The key to breaking into this paradigm is really the term Gaming. Playing with, interacting with, or controlling a toy is not the same as gaming with a toy. You can play with a teddy bear, but you can't game with one. Gaming implies a set of rules and stakes - scores and penalties - strategies - goals. An action is always the goal; something must move or change. For example the basketball must pass through the hoop, the winner must cross the finish line first, and so on. To increase your score (or decrease your penalties) often skills must be honed. This is the appeal of gaming; it is much more involved that simply playing.
It is easy to game with another person. Humans are very capable of following the rules of a game, strategizing, and performing actions (like shooting a basket). It is also easy to use human controlled toys to game against one-another. Take for example slot cars; two people can control their cars against each other to get to the finish line first. But what about gaming with a toy? Toys (as we're used to thinking of them) are not very smart so can't follow the rules of a game like a human can, they can't strategize, and they have a hard time performing all but the simplest actions. This is where video gaming steps in.
Video gaming is hosted by a computer - the gaming station. This computer can follow very sophisticated rules, call on a database of strategies, and cause it's characters to perform unbelievable actions. The gaming station is "divine" in that it knows everything about the virtual world it created. It knows the floor plan, the location of all the characters, their speed, their direction, their intention. Besides that, in an instant, a new cartridge can be inserted to create a whole new game with a whole new virtual world, rules, and characters.
How come a video game computer can perform such miracles? Why can't we just make toys with video game computers in them and suddenly have Robotic Gaming™? This could probably be made economical if the market demanded it, but it still wouldn't work! The apparent intelligence of video game characters is a trick! The key to the trick is centralized intelligence with detailed positioning information - the positions of all the characters, all the walls, cars, structures, etc are known.
Because the positions are known through a centralized controller, then all the characters can apparently see. They can navigate down hallways and drive cars and shoot at you with amazing precision. In order for a physical character to do that autonomously, it would have to have video camera eyes and a futuristic image processing computer to interpret the scenery. This is beyond the limits of today's technology.
In addition, because video game characters are all controlled by one computer, they can apparently talk to each other! They can appear to speak sentences and understand each other. This is a trick too because the game station knows what's being said and how it should be interpreted. In reality voice recognition is still difficult with today's technology, and voice understanding is a technology of the future.
The list of apparent intelligent responses, actions, and reactions that video game characters can have goes on and on all because of the same basic trick - All of the characters are controlled through a single centralized intelligence that knows the positions of all characters and the scenery.
Robotic Gaming™ uses the same trick to create a world just as rich as that of a video game, but played out in the physical world. The key technological innovation that makes this possible is position sensing. Once a centralized controller has the ability to know the positions of all the characters, they can take on all the apparently intelligent characteristics that are found in video games. This is what distinguishes Robotic Gaming™ from so many other "interactive" toys.
There are a few things worth noting regarding play with Robotic Gaming™. In general, the more toys involved the better. For example, soccer is more fun with more players. This implies a couple things. For one, the devices have to be controlled through a wireless connection such as by radio waves or infrared. This is essential so that the characters don't get tangled up with each other's control wires.
Since there could be many characters in play at once, the wireless link must support many simultaneous channels. Often manufacturers offer RC toys at either 27 MHz or 49 MHz to allow two people to play at the same time without interference. More recently manufacturers have been allocated up to four bands to allow up to four toys to be run at once. But this idea doesn't scale well to Robotic Gaming where the number of toys in play can be in the double-digits. And the toys are factory preset on each channel anyway, so it would be a problem if you and your friend's toy were on the same channel. For these reasons, Robotic Gaming requires a wireless link capable of supporting many channels that can be easily set on each toy.
The characters must also get their power without wires so these don't get tangled, too. This isn't too surprising since we're all used to RC toys that run on their own batteries. However, Robotic Gaming™ might involve, 3 toys, or 5 toys, or 9 toys, or even 25 toys, and the play is so involving as to last possibly hours at a time. This adds up to a lot of batteries. The expense alone might be prohibitive, but also with so many battery operated toys, there would always be a few that needed their batteries replaced or recharged, interrupting play. The problem of batteries for Robotic Gaming™ is considered so great that we have to conclude that toys used in Robotic Gaming™ require wireless power supplies - it is an absolute must. A wireless power supply might sound like science fiction, but don't worry - trains, bumper cars, buses, and slot cars have been using them for years! (See comments about slot cars on the History of Robotic Gaming™ page).
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