NEW YORK (
) -- I've been a huge fan of robots since I got the 2-XL, an educational toy robot, for Hanukkah as a kid. Sure, it probably doesn't meet the traditional definition of a robot -- it was basically just a robot-shaped cassette player that allowed you to interact with educational programs on the tapes -- but I loved it all the same. And if you want your friends and family to have this same sense of joy for the holidays, the robot route is one way to go.
The good news is that robots have come a long way since the early '90s, and there are now a wide variety of robotic consumer products and toys for your "robophile" child or spouse. Here are a few of the best bots on the market right now.
A pair of kid-controlled fighting robots can be yours for just $17,000 from Hammacher Schlemmer. But call by Dec. 1 to place an order for Christmas.
For the clean freak: the Roomba
It's fair to say the Roomba has established itself as the gold standard of robotic consumer products. A refresher for those who don't keep up on the world of robotic cleaners: The Roomba is a small vacuum cleaner that automatically whirrs around the house vacuuming your carpets. It is able to sense obstructions in its path and veer around them, and when it finishes cleaning it returns to its charging hub. All you need to do is empty it on a regular basis.
The latest generation of Roombas, the 700 series, range from $449.99 to $599.99 in price, though if you want an earlier model you can pick up one at Amazon
For the clean freak without carpets: the Mint
Hey, linoleum and hardwood floors need cleaning, too. To this end, Evolution Robotics introduced the Mint. The device is basically the love child of a Roomba and Swiffer -- a tiny robot equipped with dry and wet cleaning cloths to clean dust and dirt from your floors. The basic model retails for $199.99, while the beefed-up Mint Plus sells for $299.99. One of the best perks of this product is that you can use your own
do-it-yourself cleaning solution
to cut costs.
For homeowners: the automatic mower
Do you hate mowing the lawn? Do you have a lot of money to spend? Are you comfortable with the idea of owning a robot equipped with razor-sharp spinning blades?
If, and only if, you answered yes to these three questions, you might consider getting an automatic mower for you or your loved one's lawn. One option is the Friendly Robotics RoboMower, which retails for
. The robot is exactly what you'd imagine it to be: an oversized Roomba that cuts your lawn instead of vacuuming while you sit on your porch sipping lemonade. It uses a rechargeable battery instead of gasoline, and it will mow three-quarters of an acre on a single charge. To keep it from rampaging across the neighborhood you'll need to lay a thin wire down around the perimeter of your yard, which is included with the machine. Take heed, though: The product description notes that "the mower cuts grass into fine clippings and disperses the cuttings over the ground," so if you had notions this thing would gather the clippings and dump them in the woods, you're in for some disappointment.
For kids: the Bionic Bopper Cars
The Bionic Bopper car, a special promotional item sold through Hammacher Schlemmer, is basically a cross between bumper cars, Rock-Em-Sock-Em Robots, Segways and the giant robot exoskeleton Ripley used to pummel the alien queen at the end of
. A child (or man-child) ages 8 and up climbs into the steel cage cockpit and uses two joystick to punch the opposing robot with powerful pneumatic arms; points are recorded for hitting the other bot's head. The machines are powered by a Honda gas engine and weigh in at 850 pounds each.
A pair of robots can be yours
, though you'll need to call the company by Dec. 1 to place your order for Christmas.
For the busy person: the iPhone 4S
We think it's fair to say that the smartphone now qualifies as a robot thanks to the inclusion of Siri, the built-in personal assistant, in the
. OK, so it isn't exactly Rosie the Robot: It doesn't wash your dishes, serve you drinks or do any number of other tasks we might expect from a robot butler. But it helps you send text messages, schedule appointments, make restaurant reservations, get directions and answer a wide range of questions. And the software is programmed to wryly acknowledge its resemblance to fictional robots when you, for instance, ask it to open the pod bay doors.
For the telecommuter: the VGo
Even an HD webcam can only go so far when it comes to getting face time with colleagues in another office: No matter how expensive the teleconferencing technology, you're still limited to a stationary camera in a conference room.
A new breed of robots is changing that, however. So-called telepresence bots are essentially webcams with wheels, resembling a small Segway with a video monitor and webcam on top. The idea is that an executive can place one of these in a satellite office, then roll around the office having face-to-face conversations with employees. You could even steer it into the break room with the human employees and eat a sandwich over the webcam if you were so inclined.
One model, the VGo, looks to be a relatively affordable option for the worker who has to be in all places at once: The robot
, plus a $1,200 annual service contract. That's pretty cheap for a personal robot avatar.
For the budding mad scientist: the Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0
Getting a robot for Christmas is cool, but it can't compare to the thrill of actually building your own killer bot.
Fortunately, we have Lego to help stimulate young minds. The kit in question retails for
, which is good deal pricier than the blocks you got when you were a child. But inside the box you'll find more than 600 pieces, including a 32-bit microprocessor and three servo motors, plus instructions for building four different robots with the kit. There's even software included that helps guide you through the process.
>To submit a news tip, email:
9 Gadgets to Keep Your House Clean
8 Jobs That Robots Can Do
5 Gadget Gifts Boys Will Love
>To submit a news tip, email:
Follow TheStreet.com on
and become a fan on