After the commercial success of the Sony’s Aibo robotized pets, Bandai wanted do develop it’s own robotic pet. Bandai decided to take a different approach and make the robot more of a learning tools than an toy.
To achieve this, Bandai joined forces with the Japan Science and Technology Agency to create the first prototype. The deal included the release of the technical specifications to the general public by the Japan Science and Technology Agency.
The end-result of the collaboration, dubbed the JST Robot Kit (JST being the acronym for the Japan Science and Technology Agency), lead to the registration of 3 patents and to the release by Bandai of the WonderBorg. The software call Robot Works was made to be simple enough to allow any user to program the insect-looking robot, without requiring any programming languages knowledge.
“We’ve been working on making a robot that acts more independently,” said project leader Masashi Harada of Bandai, “and WonderBorg is as far as anyone can take it right now. If any of its sensors react to an external stimulus, it can act on its own judgement.”
The WonderBorg was released July 23, 2000 at the price of ¥12,000. Bandai had no idea if the WonderBorg would be a commercial success and were very prudent in their marketing strategy. Bandai only manufactured 1,000 units and decided to sell them exclusively through their Internet site. The WonderBorg did incredibly well and sold all the 1,000 units in less than eight hours. Bandai was took by surprise and had to rush back into manufacturing new units. announcing a new batch for November.
On December 07, 2000, Bandai release new units but included 2 new version which only difference is a slight color variation.
- Version 1 – Aircraft gray (Gray/White) (Serial: SWJ-BAN 033)
- Version 2 – Metallic Silver (Silver) (Serial: SWJ-BAN 034)
- Version 3 – Gun Metal (Black) (Serial: SWJ-BAN 035)
Each version were sold in a Japanese Only package and were later release in an Japanese/English package to accommodate the Asian market. Depending on the date of manufacturing, the package will either include the Robot Works 1.0 or the Robot Works 1.5 game cartridge.
Bandai licensed the right in 2001 to distribute a PC version of the WonderBord to Hasbro under their Tiger Electronics banner. A later release made it compatible with Macintosh computer.
The WonderBorg had a sophisticated set of sensors used to interact with its environment:
- infrared receiver
- antennae: independent left and right tactile sensors
- eyes: independent left and right infrared LEDs
- light sensor
- floor sensor: detects the presence or absence of ground ahead
- internal clock sensor
- steps sensor
The WonderBorg were also equipped with two independent motors which allow it to move forward, reverse, turn while moving forward or backward, and rotate in place.
The programming of the WonderBorg was done using a specialized cartridge called Robot Works. The cartridge included the visual programming language used to give instructions to the WonderBorg , but also included an infrared emitter that allowed to upload your robot the instructions without the need of a link cable.
The Robot Works cartridge also include a “pet” program, in which the WonderBorg would behave similarly to a Tamagotchi, a popular handheld digital pet also released by Bandai in 1996.