Maybe you’ve seen the high speed sugar-rush styled commercial, maybe you had a child ask you for one for Christmas, or maybe you’re a toy speculator on eBay. In any case, you’ve probably heard of one of the season’s biggest toy sensations: Zhu Zhu Pets. These little motorized faux hamsters, with names like Mr. Squiggles, are the break out product from fledgling toy company Cepia LLC. They retail for just $10, but have already sold out across the country, and can be found on eBay selling for upwards of $40 a piece. With just 16 employees (and a large Chinese manufacturing partner), Cepia hopes to sell 10 million of its Zhu Zhu Pets in the next year and may be on track to gross half a billion dollars by the end of 2010. That’s a lot of cute, and it could indicate a rising sentiment in toys and entertainment: why buy the real thing when the robot version is just as cool and much easier to live with? Enjoy some of the high energy Zhu Zhu mania in the videos after the break.
Whether it’s robotic bugs, or a virtual teddy bear you can pet with a haptic ring, technology and cuteness have a seemingly unbreakable business relationship. Engineers can’t seem to build robots without wanting to put a happy (or at least cool) face on them. It works from the other side as well. Toy companies, movie makers, and cartoon producers can’t sell you real animals (we don’t have the technology yet), but they can market you a facsimile. Zhu Zhu Pets run around, make sounds, and explore habitats in a manner reminiscent of real hamsters. They have much of the personality, and few of the drawbacks. At the risk of sounding crass, I think the biggest selling point is that Zhu Zhus don’t poop. As the commercial says, “they’re so fun without the mess!” Add to that the facts that they don’t die and you can turn them off at night and I’m not sure why most parents would choose the real hamster. As robotics and artificial intelligence get better and cheaper, we’re only going to see more of these automated companions. (Adults are likely to have their own versions, too.) Sorry, hamsters, you’re going to have to join the ranks of humans in the unemployment line.
Feeling tired? Just watch this commercial…sheesh!
And if you want the expert Mom opinion…
[photo credit: Cepia LLC]