If there’s any one company that stands out at the king of Japan’s consumer electronics empire it has to be Sony. A modern, slick, high tech brand and constantly producing products the top ranks in numerous categories. Sony has also pushed the boundaries of innovation in bringing entertainment robots to the consumer market. The Aibo is perhaps the most famous example, but the Rolly “dancing music player” has been Sony’s showcase entertainment robot on the shelves of Japan’s electronic stores for the last year or so. “Dancing music player” really describes the rolly best, but you won’t really get the Rolly until you’ve seen it live or in a video like this …

Ever since envying leading tech toy geek Steve Nagata’s demo at a Shibuya get-together I’ve been wanting to try out a Rolly and was lucky enough to get one for review.

Out of the box the Rolly, strikes you as a very sturdy, weighty, well-built device – no doubt the stamina required for a full time dancing robot. Rolly is easy to use. One click of the main button gets Rolly singing and two clicks gets Rolly singing and dancing to the pre-installed tunes. The real fun comes when using your own music though. There’s two options, either copy music over from your PC or stream music from a Bluetooth device.

When sending music music from your PC you can also opt to program Rolly’s dance moves using the bundled software – an innovative option for true Rolly aficionados. Bluetooth is not as ubiquitous as I would like, but luckily I have a small Bluetooth dongle (similar to the one shown here) that plugs into the headphone jack on any music device. This made it super easy to stream music to Rolly from my home stereo and TV or when out visiting and showing off Rolly to friends. I think it would be good idea for Sony to bundle one of these dongles. When streaming music, Rolly improvises the dance moves amazingly well, although the programmed moves are definitely in a different class.

While a fun device to play with on your own, Rolly makes an exceptional party toy. I was surprised how many people didn’t know about Rolly. Children and adults alike were genuinely fascinated and couldn’t help picking Rolly up to take a closer look. I’ve seen Rolly in impressive display cases in electronics stores, but unfortunately in the display’s I’ve seen Rolly is always standing still. I can’t help thinking Sony would see a boost in sales if Rolly was dancing away in these display cases. I’m sure the crowds would be attracted in the same way as they were to Aibo. Battery life if probably the issue for this type of usage, although Rolly does give a respectible 4 hours dancing time on the USB chargeable battery, which I found fine for my uses.

Rolly comes in white or black from Sony store in the US and different colored arms can also be purchased. In Japan, a Pink Rolly is also available. (The black Rolly is only available at the Sony Style online store). At US$399.99 or 39,800 yen you probably won’t be buying more than one, but it’s an affordable price point and I think great value for what you get. There’s a bunch of other innovative features I’ve not mentioned here such the method for changing tracks and volume using the wheels and the ability to control from your PC and some phones (in Japan).

If I had to find any niggles, I found the drop in volume when the dancing arms where closed to be a bit of an irritation, but programming could get around this. The Rolly also by default stops dancing after one track and there’s no override (other than an unofficial hack) which is a shame. Finally the rubber wheels tend to collect dust so make sure you’ve wiped the dance floor before use.

Overall, Rolly is a fun device to have around. True aficionados can program the Rolly to their heart’s content, and I can envision entertaining Rolly meetups and dance parties. For the more casual user Rolly is a fun talking point at a home party and a way to keep the kids and cat entertained. The thing that left the biggest impression with me though was the way Rolly coreographed it’s own dance moves. This intelligent behaviour from a home entertainment device left me inspired and wondering what creative consumer electronic device we’ll see next from Sony.

Product Page on Sony Style USA: www.sonystyle.com/rolly
Product Page on Sony Japan Site: http://www.sony.jp/products/Consumer/rolly/
Interactive demo

Other Resources
Some good background info on Rolly and Other Sony Robot Products: http://www.sonyaibo.net/aboutrolly.htm
Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolly_(Sony)