Developments to Watch
BIG BARBIE IS WATCHING YOU
NASA'S DREAM OF CHEAP, BATTERY-POWERED CAMERAS ON chips that can beam pictures back from space may first be realized in a more earthbound setting: children's toys. Los Angeles designer Curtis M. Brubaker wants to put one-chip video cameras in dolls, remote-controlled cars, and robots. These would send signals back to a receiver that plugs into the TV set or VCR so kids can monitor or record what their toy tanks, trucks, and robots "see" as they explore the living room or terrorize the cat. Brubaker has won two key patents on a real-time video transmission scheme and on the use of wireless video in toys.
Development so far has been funded by cable-TV programmer Discovery Communications Inc. and Walt Disney Co., which has registered the trademark DisneyVision. Now, Brubaker is looking for a technology partner to underwrite the design of the communications chip. The first product would be a starter kit that includes a receiver and a cigar-size camera and communications module--all for just $99. Licensed toymakers can then create products that incorporate the plug-in camera. The key to low cost and portability: a new sensor chip that can be manufactured in conventional semiconductor facilities. Brubaker has also shown a color version for theme parks and institutions, including a remote-controlled toy submarine camera that captures close-ups of marine life in aquariums.EDITED BY NEIL GROSS