Local inventor creates new hit toy by accident


Its name is "Keepon" -- as in keep on dancing. It wasn't created as a toy, but as a tool to research autism.

"We used the robot in the playroom and a therapist in another room is controlling the robot. In the research version the eyes are cameras, the nose is a microphone and a therapist can interact with kids through this simpler body," said Marek Michalowski, the Keepon co-creator.

The research robot cost $30,000 to make. Michalowski shot a video as he was programming it to dance.

"I never intended it to be a public video. I was kind of just showing my friends what I was working on over the summer," said Michalowski.

The video went viral. The video had more than two million hits and an offer from the band "Spoon" to make a full music video.

"We were having thousands of people writing in to us, asking for a toy version," said Michalowski.

This holiday, that wish comes true -- not for $30,000, but for $35.00. The scaled back toy version doesn't have cameras or a remote control, but it can still dance.

"One of the most common comments was, 'You know, this thing dances better than I do and I don't understand why,'" said Michalowski.

Psychologists say it's no surprise that kids are drawn to Keepon and no coincidence that some of the biggest hit toys of past holiday seasons have also been robots.

"Kids generally are using toys to kind of practice real life, and what could be better than a robot? Something that's lifelike, but that you can control," said consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow.

Consumer psychologist Yarrow points to runaway hits like Tickle Me Elmo, which also has an awfully cute face and reacts to being touched.

"They have eyes, they have a personality, they have some characteristics that seem real life," said Yarrow.

And in Keepon's case, it's doing some real life good. Part of the price goes toward making more research robots to help kids with autism.

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