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