Robotic pet takes cues from your computerEver wanted a...

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November 15, 1999

Robotic pet takes cues from your computer

Ever wanted a robot that could putter around the house, carry food and drinks around at a party, even vacuum, all for under $1,000? Well, just in time for the year 2000, you can have your wish -- sort of. Meet Cye, a mechanical pet on wheels (or spikes, to be exact).

Unlike some other attempts at home robotics, Cye doesn't depend on fancy sensors or expensive on-board computers. It uses your PC's brain to power it. Cye has a radio receiver and your Windows PC is outfitted with an antenna that connects to its serial port. Mapping software teaches Cye its new surroundings. As you move the cursor around the screen, Cye sniffs out its territory. You tell it where you want it to go and what's off-limits by marking danger zones. Once Cye has learned the rooms of your house, you can use the software to program specific routines (go to the kitchen to pick up dinner and deliver it to the dining room, vacuum the bedroom, etc.).

Unfortunately, Cye doesn't have arms, so it can't get sodas from the fridge. It still needs human helpers. It has an optional cart attachment ($89) for hauling plates, cups and silverware, and there's a cordless upright vacuum ($129). It might not do the best job in the world, but it can help keep the dog or cat hair down.

Cye has a hard time on wood floors, and seems most comfortable on carpet. The latest version of the Cye software improves its navigation on wood. The new Cye-sr ($845) adds sound response, so you can order it around by giving clap commands. It even dances to music! As a holiday special, Cye-sr, the vacuum and the cart are available for $995.

The first day we got it, I spent hours playing with the various features. It was fun teaching it, but it was frustrating dealing with Cye's tendency to slip on some flooring. Probotics, Cye's manufacturer, seems enthusiastic about improving its robots. I can't wait to see upgrades.

Information: 412-322-6005 or www.personalrobots.com.

-- Blake Branwyn Maloof

Looks not everything with PC from Gateway

Gateway has thrown its hat into the all-in-one PC ring with its new Astro PC ($799). The first thing you notice is its appearance -- ugly with a capital UGH. As my wife and I wrestled it from the box, we gasped and giggled. "It's the Jabba the Hut of PCs," exclaimed my 12-year-old son, Blake (who reviewed the Cye robot).

What it lacks in looks the Astro makes up for with features geared to new users. This is truly a full-service PC for the people, with a 400-MHz Celeron processor, 64 megabytes of RAM, a 4.3-gigabyte hard drive, 56K modem, a 15-inch screen and other features we've come to expect in a home PC.

The Astro is the ultimate in ease of use. Take it out of the box, plug in the power and phone cables, attach mouse and keyboard, turn it on, and you're ready to rumble. This is the first PC I've seen that comes standard with a USB keyboard and mouse. Unfortunately, it lacks the multimedia and Internet buttons on the keyboard that many manufacturers incorporate.

Even with its robust features, the Astro has a "you get what you pay for" feel to it. The keyboard is cheap and loud, and the built-in speakers are substandard, so if playing music is important, you'll want to upgrade.

If you're looking for beauty and brawn, look elsewhere. If you're looking for a cheap, "fast-food computer" that you can replace in a few years, the Astro is an obvious choice. Just do us all a favor and put a bag over it!

Information: 800-846-2000 or www.gateway.com.

-- Gareth Branwyn

For reviews of these and other gadgets, point your Web browser to www.streettech.com.

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