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CES 2015: Robot messenger connects parents and kids

If your child is too young to have a phone, how about a robot? #CES2015

If your child is too young to have a phone, how about a robot?

Tokyo-based Yukai Engineering Inc. showed off a "robot messenger" dubbed Bocco at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, aiming for a different niche than the dozens of other robotic creations on display. Rather than trying to entertain or increase productivity, Bocco is an easy-to-use messaging device aimed at children and those unable to use a conventional phone.

The WiFi-enabled robot, which is about the size of a bobblehead doll, sends and receives messages to and from smartphones running the Bocco app. It’s a secure link, the company says on its website, and it had better be: The idea of intruders intercepting or spoofing messages between children and their parents is pretty terrifying.

The robot has two buttons: one for recording voice messages and one for playing the messages that are received. Although the robot can send only audio recordings, it can receive both audio and text messages, which it converts to text in a voice that’s closer to "Danger, Will Robinson!" than "Wall-E." 

Clearly, it's not a replacement for a phone -- you can't use it to dial 911. But it provides a simple, cost-free way for kids to pass messages to a distant relative, a parent who's gone to the grocery store or a loved one who's at the office.

When the robot receives a message, it plays a chime, its eyes light up and its head starts swiveling as if it's looking for the source of an unexpected sound. It does the same when it receives an alert from either of the two included sensors, which detect vibration and light.

The networked sensors also send alerts to the Bocco app, so they could be used as rudimentary home security devices -- for example, to detect when the front door is opened while the owner is away.

Bocco hasn't gone on sale yet, said engineer Masakazu Ohtsuka of Yukai. The company's plan is to launch the product through a Kickstarter campaign in March.

Follow Jon Healey's intermittent Twitter feed: @jcahealey

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