New dolls do their own shopping

Dec. 22, 2002 at 2:05 AM
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CHICAGO, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Dolls that can buy their own dollhouse furniture and other accessories soon could find their way onto shelves for holiday shoppers.

More than just a way to avoid trips to the toy store or rack up credit charges, the dolls' inventors said they are only one of many technologies on the horizon that will enable gadgets to serve their owners better.

"Imagine you did the same thing with your car -- you give it a budget for changing the oil, a tune-up. Let it figure it out," chief scientist Glover Ferguson of Accenture Technology Laboratories in Chicago told United Press International. "What was a fantasy world a few years ago is very close to breaking into the realm of reality."

The keys to these advances are radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags, which Ferguson described as "bar codes on steroids." "The current ones are silicon-based, little teeny processors," he explained. "The chips are getting vanishingly small, half a piece of glitter. If you embedded them in a cardboard box, it would be considered an acceptable impurity in recycling."

The tags are connected to antennae that can take many forms -- even the printing on a box. When a tag reader emits radio waves, the waves excite the antenna and power the tag. "What make the tags (like) bar codes on steroids is that you don't need to see them to read them -- radio frequencies can go through objects," Ferguson explained.

Thus, small, cheap tag readers could be incorporated into dolls. Accenture scientists have come up with such a working prototype, where all the doll's accessories have tags in them.

"If a child takes the doll another house, the doll can take note of everything that's around, and note items in Suzie's house were cool," Ferguson said. The doll, with a wireless Internet connection, could set up a wish list or even put in a purchase order through a PC, depending on how the doll's "brain" is configured and what credit access it is permitted by its owners.

Accenture researchers also are working on smart wardrobes by applying the technology to clothing. Hooked up to an electronic calendar, for example, it could remind owners to dress formally for a business meeting or check the weather and recommend, say, short sleeves.

The smart wardrobe could even look at your overall taste and scan the catalogues of nearby stores "for shirts or pants that go with your coat," he added.

Although the tags are here "and getting cheaper and more pervasive," Ferguson said, "it's a question of having enough critical mass to knit them together." In the future, houses hooked up to the Internet and electronic calendars could advise owners about paint, gutter repairs and furnace or other routine maintenance chores.

"This is something that's never been done before, and that's always exciting," said consulting services analyst Anna Danilenko of International Data Corporation in Framingham, Mass. "They have tremendous convenience to save time, and they make mundane tasks exciting."

Danilenko told UPI she expects Accenture's technologies to "be part of our lives by 2010."


(Reported by Charles Choi, UPI Science News, in New York)

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