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U:bot… Programmed to party

October 1, 2009 by by Devin Monk, Lake Travis View

A child inside a Games2U U:bot

Robots are not attacking the city, but they completely won over the crowd at Games2U Entertainment’s official unveiling Wednesday of the 6-foot, 8-inch motorized U:Bot.

When co-creators Stuart and David Pikoff lifted the curtain to reveal U:Bot, children could hardly contain themselves as they lined up to step inside and control the towering green machine at the 2-year-old company’s corporate headquarters on Hudson Bend Road.

Cyndey McCollum, 10, of Steiner Ranch said she wasn’t sure what to expect once she took control.

“I was nervous because I thought I would run into stuff or into a person, but I didn’t,” Cyndey said.

A U:Bot operator may control its wheel-based movement via a joystick to move forward, backward, left and right and pivot 360 degrees. At the punch of a button, U:Bot also flashes laser lights and emits fog. A microphone-based voice-modulation system transforms regular speech into robotic monologue.

U:Bot’s bells and whistles captured Cyndey’s attention the most.

“It looked really big and cool and I liked all the flashing lights. The smoke really made it pop!” she said.

Robots have been a part of entertainment for several decades now, from Isaac Asimov’s short stories and novels to C3-PO, Transformers and WALL-E in film to remote-controlled toys such as those on show at National Instruments’ NIWeek 2009 last month, but the Pikoffs claim U:Bot is the world’s first robot that enables a human to step inside it to take control and navigate.

Once the idea was born, it took the Games2U team of engineers and mechanics six months to design and construct U:Bot’s Fiberglas-body prototype at a cost of $10,000.

“There were a lot of late nights, scratching our heads,” David Pikoff said.

But the trips back to the drawing board paid off, and the company plans to produce more robots exclusively for its 38 franchises in 16 states starting in October.

At first some of the children at the unveiling didn’t know if they were looking at a mechanical monstrosity, but they soon found out this was no Terminator.

Children who have seen U:Bot have responded with awe and pumped-up energy.

“[Their reactions are] over-the-top crazy. They’ve never experienced anything like it. Kids are empowered; they get to be the robot,” Pikoff said.

Games2U, founded on the principle of providing children’s entertainment, designed U:Bot with safety as its first priority. No one can operate the robot until an employee activates it with a clicker that is similar to a remote-ignition device for vehicles and plenty of space is given for the U:Bot driver to roam.

The company is known for its eye-catching trailers that bring laser tag and multi-player console games, such as Guitar Hero, to birthday parties and other special occasions. U:Bot will be one of several extras available at such events.

“We always wanted the average kid to be able to feel like a rock star for a day. Now they can feel like a robot for a day,” Pikoff said.