Cool Stuff: Your 2007 Holiday Gift Guide

More than 50 amazing gifts for the technology lovers in your life

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Weird and Wacky

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Get silly with these fun-loving gifts. WowWee Alive Elvis

If Elvis were assimilated by the Borg, he might look like this. WowWee's animatronic Alive Elvis captures the King's classic facial expressions and moves as the Borg bust belts out eight songs and issues famous monologues.

Alive Elvis, courtesy of WowWee.

Alive Elvis, courtesy of WowWee.

The robotic, life-sized talking head uses 10 precision motors to get facial expressions such as Elvis' famous lip curl down pat. (See it for yourself by watching the video.) You can get a microphone to sing along and add extra memory cards to expand the repertoire of songs and monologues.

The cyborg Elvis, which comes dressed in a simulated leather jacket, includes an "automonous" mode in which the head uses infrared sensor "eyes" to track and follow your movement and issues occasional Elvis sound bites ("I get lonely sometimes"). While Alive Elvis' lip-syncing won't fool anyone, some of the facial expressions are fascinatingly lifelike.

The autonomous mode, however, seems a bit creepy. Like one of those paintings in Disney's Haunted Mansion, Elvis is always watching you. Alive Elvis is the kind of present you don't want in your bedroom at night.

—Robert L. Mitchell  

WowWee Alive Elvis from WowWee Ltd.

Price: $300 | Tech specs

Where to buy | Phone: (800) 310-3033

Summary: A head-and-shoulders replica of Elvis Presley sings, speaks and follows movement. WowWee successfully captures some of the singer's classic facial expressions and moves in this animated reproduction.

Roboquad, courtesy of WowWee.

Roboquad, courtesy of WowWee. Roboquad WowWee's Roboquad is a four-legged, crab-like robot designed to maintain a constant state of suspicious alert. If anything moves, or if lights come on or something makes a loud noise, Roboquad reacts more or less like a nervous chihuahua: It looks startled, fidgets, has a minor freak-out, then goes back to just hanging out, beeping, chirping and looking around.

You can use the included remote control to give it any of several personalities, modes or activities -- such as dancing to music -- and any of 27 different "emotional states." You can also control it directly, using movement and motion buttons on the remote.

It even has a guard mode. If an intruder breaks into your house, Roboquad will track him down, follow him with its "eyes," and, ultimately ... get stolen. It's just too cool to leave behind.

Interestingly, Roboquad's legs were developed for a NASA Mars robot. The designer left NASA to found WowWee -- and used his expertise to create Roboquad.

—Mike Elgan  

Roboquad from WowWee Ltd.

Price: $79 to $99 | Tech specs | Where to buy | Phone: (800) 310-3033

Summary: A crab-like robot loaded with personality, Roboquad interacts with light, motion and objects and can be programmed or controlled with a handheld remote.
Estes Astrovision Video Rocket, courtesy of Estes-Cox.

Estes Astrovision Video Rocket, courtesy of Estes-Cox. Estes Astrovision Video Rocket Model rockets are fun, but the Estes Astrovision Video Rocket ($55) is extra fun, because its digital camera takes either video or still pictures of the flight. After the rocket floats back to Earth using the included parachute, you can plug the rocket nose cone into your Windows PC via USB, and transfer the video.

Using the rocket takes zero skill as a rocketeer -- no assembly is required. The entire nose cone is a lightweight, solid-state, special purpose camera. And it's easy to use: Just choose video or picture mode, turn the camera on, and launch the rocket. In video mode, the camera captures about 12 seconds of flight. In picture mode, it takes three pictures, 1.5 seconds apart.

A typical video taken with the Astrovision shows the launch pad fading into smallness, and the surrounding area, straight down. Then, as the rocket peaks, you can see the horizon, then sky, then parachute.

—Mike Elgan  

Astrovision Video Rocket from Estes-Cox Corp.

Price: $55 | Store locator | Phone: (719) 535-9335

Summary: The Astrovision Video Rocket is an easy-to-use rocket that soars into the sky and then parachutes down to Earth, taking video or digital pictures along the way.

SensorfreshQ

Is there a cook or homemaker on your list who always sniffs a package of meat to make sure it's safe? Get them the SensorfreshQ ($90) from Food Quality Sensor International. This small handheld device replaces your nose with four electronic sensors -- you point it at your meat, press the button, and it "inhales" whatever bacteria might be nearby and measures their concentration.

SensorfreshQ, courtesy of FQSI

SensorfreshQ, courtesy of FQSI

A green light means it's perfectly fresh, a yellow light means eat it soon, and a red light means it's probably not fresh any more. You can find the SensorfreshQ online or at Sur la Table outlets. No more recoiling in disgust at that rotten meat smell!

—Jake Widman  

SensorfreshQ from Food Quality Sensor International Inc.

Price: $90 | Phone: (781) 862-3710

Summary: Is that meat fresh? Now you'll never have to guess.
i-SOBOT, courtesy of Tomy.

i-SOBOT, courtesy of Tomy. i-SOBOT Most robots walk like, well, robots. The i-SOBOT, which Tomy Corp. calls the world's smallest "high-tech humanoid," can truly walk the walk. Nearly a year after the product was announced, Tomy's karate-chopping, dancing bot finally went on sale in the U.S. last month.

The 6.5-in., $300 biped boasts capabilities normally found in more expensive kit robots; i-SOBOT's 17 servo motors and gyroscopic sensors allow more realistic movement and balance than has been available in robots in this price range. Using a remote control, the operator can choose from 80 different preprogrammed actions and can store up to 80 command sequences on each of three remote buttons and play the routines later.

I-SOBOT spouts some 200 words and phrases as it goes through its antics, and it uses an embedded microphone with a voice recognition processor to respond to 10 "commands." The commands are designed more to elicit a response than to then execute a specific function.

Commands such as "How are you?" or "Make me laugh" cause i-SOBOT to respond with "appropriate but unpredictable actions," according to Tomy. Preprogrammed "special action" commands play back routines, such as this one, where the i-SOBOT walks and talks as if it's drunk.

—Robert L. Mitchell  

i-SOBOT from Tomy Corp.

Price: $300-$350 | Tech specs

Summary: The first preassembled robot to achieve "well articulated" walking movement uses 17 servo motors and a gyro sensor to help it maintain balance as it walks, does somersaults, dances and performs other actions.
3rdSpace Vest, courtesy of TN Games.

3rdSpace Vest, courtesy of TN Games. 3rdSpace Vest Haptic feedback is all the rage in video games. Xbox and other controllers shake and rattle to simulate impact and augment on-screen action. Haptics dramatically improve realism, even when applied in a small handheld controller.

The 3rdSpace Vest ($170) from TN Games provides "eight active zones" of rib-crushing haptics. When someone shoots you on the right side, you feel it on your right side. When you get kicked in the chest, you feel that, too. You'll feel every shotgun blast to the torso, every body slam and every frag grenade. You'll even feel light nudges and taps.

The 3rdSpace Vest is bundled with a game written by the company called 3rd Space Incursion, a first-person shooter game. The vest comes in black, camo and hot pink, and is currently for the PC only.

—Mike Elgan  

3rdSpace Vest from TN Games

Price: $169.99 | Phone: (425) 881-8806

Summary: The 3rdSpace Vest boosts the realism of games by letting you feel the explosions and body impact of on-screen action.
USB Toaster gag box, courtesy of <i>The Onion</i>.

USB Toaster gag box, courtesy of the Onion. USB Toaster box No, you can't really make toast on your computer. But wouldn't it be great if you could? Don't you have a co-worker who eats breakfast at his desk who would think that was just the best idea ever? Well, put whatever your real gift is inside this USB Toaster box ($8) from The Onion and watch his excitement grow & and then fade.

It's the thought that counts, right? Why not give a gift that's nothing but thought?

—Jake Widman  

USB Toaster box from Onion Inc.

Price: $7.99

Summary: A gag gift for those who love to eat breakfast at their desks.
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