A robotic flatulent dog is just for Christmas

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The Independent Online

They suffer mood swings, belch, pass electronic wind and - barring a super human ability for resisting a child's plaintive demands - they will be in almost every family home by Boxing Day.

They suffer mood swings, belch, pass electronic wind and - barring a super human ability for resisting a child's plaintive demands - they will be in almost every family home by Boxing Day.

A new generation of robotic toys, including no fewer than 10 animatronic dogs, was yesterday revealed as the "must have" for the nation's youngsters this Christmas as the £1.67bn-a-year industry geared up for the seasonal sales.

The top 10 products judged by retailers as the likely bestsellers this winter were unveiled as manufacturers gathered at Earl's Court, west London. The so-called Santa Oscars, organised by the British Association of Toy Retailers, included no fewer than five electronic dolls and dogs bursting with cutting-edge story-telling and voice recognition technology. Parents should be warned that names such as Poo-Chi, Teksta, Amazing Ally and Baby Annabel are about to enter the vocabulary of virtually every under-15 in the land.

At the heart of this year's sales drive is a new-found ability for manufacturers to pack their products with gadgetry to mimic human traits and maximise the crucial "attachment factor" between child and play thing. Whereas for previous generations the height of doll sophistication was the ability of an Action Man to swivel his eyes, industry insiders admitted yesterday that modern youngsters are being bombarded with products designed to turn a toy into a child's best friend.

One senior development executive for a major retailer said: "The battleground in today's toy market is to create a bond between the child and their toy. The bottom line is that it encourages long-term sales with accessories and so on.

"Some people may see it as sinister but these products encourage social skills and the development of relationships. That is something that previous toys simply haven't been able to do."

Amazing Ally, manufactured by the Surrey-based Vivid Imagination, is a doll with an interactive pad that enables it to learn its owner's favourite colour, clothes and music. This plastic prima donna will even complain when she thinks she is wearing the wrong outfit for the wrong occasion.

Poo-Chi, an electronic puppy that barks, jumps and sings Christmas carols, comes complete with what the manufacturer, Tiger Electronics, calls in-built "bio rhythms"; in effect different moods signalled through its plaintive eyes.

A depressed Poo-Chi, like the rest of its competitors modelled on a trend which originated in Japan two years ago, can be cured by "feeding" with a plastic bone. The reward for the young owner is a pair of red hearts which appear in the puppy's eyes.

Tim Garner, managing director of Tiger Electronics which hopes to have sold 650,000 Poo-Chis by the end of the year, said: "To all intents and purposes it is a puppy without the mess."

Teksta, a rival for the top robot dog spot, comes with a pre-programmed 32-bit processor loaded with 150 functions, including the ability to unleash a burst of electronic flatulence when patted.

Teksta also comes as a website which will progressively reveal instructions throughout the year on how to unlock all of the 150 functions, creating the impression for the young owner that his or her dog is "growing and learning". But nine-year-old Jack Sullivan, from Romford, Essex, was found looking with barely concealed disgust at yet another animatronic pooch. He said: "I couldn't take that for a walk could I? It would break down if I made it chase a ball. Give me a real dog any day."

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