Pooches programmed for interaction; Dogs: A new, cheaper breed of computerized canine is arriving on store shelves.


On the Chinese calendar, this is the Year of the Dragon, but a group of toy and consumer electronics manufacturers would not be unhappy if it turned out to be the year of the dog -- the interactive robotic dog, that is.

Several companies, including Fisher-Price and Toy Biz, are rolling out computerized canines this spring and fall, following in the path of Sony's Aibo (pronounced EYE-bo), a limited-production robot dog that cost $2,500.

The new mechanical palm puppies are less sophisticated, but also less expensive. They bark, wag their plastic tails and beg for the affections of anyone willing to pay about $30 to $150 to buy them.

And unlike toy dogs of the pre-PC era, these tech pets seem to develop behaviors that respond to how their owners play with them.

The first to reach retail shelves is Poo-Chi, the Interactive Puppy.

Made by the people who created the Furby -- Tiger Electronics, a division of Hasbro -- Poo-Chi went on sale last week in the United States at the Manhattan store of FAO Schwarz and its Web site, www.fao.com.

Poo-Chi is sensitive to light, touch and sound. It can't walk, but it can sit, stand and rock on its tiptoes. It can also flap its ears and open and close its toothless mouth.

Its eyes, red shapes on an L.E.D. screen, even show expressions. When a plastic bone is placed near Poo-Chi's nose (which contains an infrared sensor), the eyes become heart shapes. The dog also barks out six songs, including "I've Been Working on the Railroad."

Poo-Chi, which was co-produced by Japan-based Sega Toys, went on sale in Japan this month. Shoppers bought 100,000 of them in three hours.

"We think it's got all the earmarks for one of those crazy phenomena of the toy world," said David Niggli, chief operating officer of FAO Schwarz.

Later this year, Tiger will release i-Cybie, a much more sophisticated robotic dog that will cost about $150.

A host of dogs will be available this year. Shown at this year's Toy Fair in New York was Robotic Puppy by Fisher-Price, Tekno by Manley Toy Quest and Puppy Magic, a sort of a hybrid of an electronic dog and a plush toy by Toy Biz, a division of Marvel Enterprises.

Robotic Puppy responds to a series of pre-set commands that can be delivered orally over a headset or manually with a remote control pad.

Tekno can be trained to do simple tricks by way of a related Web site.

And Puppy Magic, which comes with a litter of four newborn puppies, uses electronic sensors and mechanics to give the impression that the mother dog recognizes and cares for her offspring.

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