It Walks, Talks and Falls Asleep, and So Animal Lovers Must Ask—Is It Live or Is It Robopet?

updated 12/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Remember Teddy Ruxpin, the cushy little electronic bear that created a sensation two Christmases ago? Well, forget him. "Teddy is nothing more than a tape recorder," says Bill Gillard of Colorado City, Colo. "He just isn't state of the art." Gillard, 41, is no bear-hating Scrooge, mind you, just the competition. His company, Phonetica One, makes animals that not only talk but walk, jump, sing, go to sleep, respond to voice commands, purr when patted, giggle when tickled and dance to "Waltzing Matilda." This summer we had Robocop. Now we have Robopet.

Gillard, a computer engineer and designer, began toying with the idea of robotic pets in his garage five years ago. Backing from bank loans helped him create Phonetica One in 1985. After two years of research and development, the company has two models on the market—Danny the Outback Dog and Fred the Ameri-Mutt. In December, Phonetica's version of the ubiquitous Spuds MacKenzie will be introduced. Stuffed with Hitachi 6303 8-bit microchips, each creature retails for $99 and is programmed for 100 verbal responses, including "Are you talking to me?" "Where are we going?" and "It feels good to stretch my legs." After each of the tasks is performed, the life-size animals wiggle their ears, indicating they're ready for more instructions. "They're a quantum leap in technology, and they're going to blow the doors off the industry," proclaims Gillard. Better yet, they won't bite the neighbors, chew the furniture or ruin the rugs. The perfect pet at last.

Product testing is performed in the shop by Gillard's 75 employees and at home by his children, Michelle, 11, Jenna, 10, and Fred, 8. (Gillard, who's divorced, has custody of his kids.) All concerned must be doing something right because Phonetica One has sold 10,000 animals this year and has 40,000 more orders to fill. Someday Gillard would like to apply the technology he's developed to medical uses. "But first," he says, "I have to make some money on toys."

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