Tri-Bot Review

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WowWee Tri-Bot Review

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WowWeeís whimsical new Tri-Bot robot is a fun, entertaining, and very easy to use new toy robot that any geek, youngster, oldster, or toy lover will enjoy.  Iíll give you detailed information on the Tri-Bot including important tips on unpacking the little guy and how to get the most out of your playtime with him. Remember, whenever you see this finger icon:
It means an important tip follows that you should pay attention to.  Also, be sure to watch our video review of the Tri-Bot; text good, moving pictures better!


A good pair of wire cutters, a decent knife, and a Phillips head screwdriver makes unpacking the Tri-Bot a simple task; especially the wire cutters, without which the job becomes much harder.  Make sure not to pull too hard on the robotís appendages.  If you have cut all the straps properly he should literally just fall out the box. Sometimes you have to pull the wire strap completely out the box after cutting it before the robot comes loose.

 There are some clear plastic rubber band like strings around the Tri-Botís head. Also, there is a plastic collar around his neck. These are easy to miss (I did).  If you donít remove them he wonít be able to pop his headlight up.  Also, you wonít be able to use Alarm mode because you have to press down on his head to set the time, a movement that is prevented by the plastic neck collar.  Remove these items carefully to avoid damaging your Tri-Bot but make sure you get rid of them.

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Wheel Base

One of Tri-Botís most impressive features is his mobility. He can move handily in nearly every direction and turns on a dime.  This feat is accomplished through his unique three wheel base. If you look closely at the wheels, you will see that they have black rollers embedded in them.  This means that the wheel acts as a rolling surface, even if the wheel itself is not turning.  By turning some wheels and at times holding one of the others steady, the Tri-Bot is able to move diagonally giving him a total of 8 possible directions of movement.  Forward, backward, left, right, and the four diagonal directions in-between. WowWee deserves huge kudos for bringing walking robots into the price range of the average consumer, but the walking robots usually have difficulty with carpeting, especially thick carpets. The Tri-Bot skitters freely around on short pile carpet like the kind I have.  The carpet does make the games more difficult due to the variances in the carpet layout, but other than that he gets around like a champ. I have not had the opportunity to try him out on thicker carpeting yet.

 Hackers take note! Itís obvious that many in the robot hacking community will jump all over the Tri-Botís wheel base and tilt sensor capabile remote control for their own projects.  My condolences to the Tri-Botís sacrificed for those projects but itís a worthy cause!

Remote Control (with Tilt Sensor)

The Tri-Botís remote control is a sleek uncluttered remote that takes 3 ďAAAĒ batteries to operate.  Itís one of the features that makes me recommend the robot as a great all around gift rather than just one for robot lovers and techno-geeks like myself.  Unlike many other consumer robots which have complex remote controls and take an earnest effort to master, anyone can be operating the Tri-Bot in minutes.  Also, there is a truly fun feature that WowWee added to the Tri-Botís remote: a tilt sensor.  Taking their cue from the remote included with the massively successful Nintendo Wii game console, the remote control has a built-in tilt sensor.  Whenever you press the Tilt Trigger, the Tri-Bot will move in one of the four cardinal directions when you tilt the remote (forward, back, left, and right - but not the diagonal directions).  As I said, this is one of the big features makes the Tri-Bot a superb gift choice for those that are technophobes, especially those that have a fear of remote controls. 

 Before you press the Tilt Trigger, tilt the remote control in the direction you first want Tri-Bot to move in. This prevents the Tri-Bot from scurrying off in some odd direction if the remote control is not completely flat when you first press the Tilt Trigger.


Tri-Bot has the personality of an affable hyperactive youngster. When he moves about he frequently makes humorous comments to spice up your playtime with him. In addition, he will make suggestions to play some of the games he knows how to play.  I found his personality to be quite funny and pleasant and chuckled on more than one occasion, like when he was roaming the house and quipped ďthis floor needs vacuumingĒ or when he sings ďroam freeĒ before embarking on a tour of your home.


Tri-Bot comes with the usual sensors that WowWee embeds in most of their robots. He has a Tilt Sensor for detecting when he has tipped over, which he will let you know has happened by uttering one of several funny comments like ďThe floor has become a wall!Ē. He has infrared sensors in front for detecting obstacles in his path. By also having infrared sensors mounted on his back he can sense movement all around him when he is in guard mode. 

 Perhaps giving a Tri-Bot to your kids will give them a good reason to finally clean up the floor?

Behavior Modes

Tri-Bot has several specific behavior modes, each with its own characteristics:

  • Demonstration - when you press the DEMO button on the remote control, Tri-Bot will go into a short sequence of movements to show you several of his most interesting features, along with other information like what games he can play. Note, Tri-Bot will give you more information each time you press the the DEMO button, until he runs out of tips
  • Homing Beacon - Pressing the HOME button on the remote triggers a fun feature that makes Tri-Bot try to find you by searching for a homing signal transmitted by the remote control.  Once he has found you he stops. Note, he must be in line of sight of the remote control for this feature to work.
  • Guard - the ever popular guard mode that almost all WowWee robots have.  Place Tri-Bot in the area you want to guard and after you tap his head, he will scan the area and then enter guard mode. If he detects any movement or new objects he will let out a very impressive alarm sound while popping out his flip-top searchlight and ears. This can be a hilarious event when triggered by an unsuspecting pet or family member, especially in the dark.  (Be nice though!).  Note, he will exit guard mode after 30 minutes by himself, or sooner if you press the GUARD button again.
  • Alarm Mode - Tri-Bot can act as a portable alarm for short periods of time (think of him more like an egg timer than a clock). After you press the ALARM button, you press his head down once for each minute you want him to wait before sounding the alarm.  When the specified time limit expires, the alarm will sound which you can stop by pressing his head again.  (Trust me, youíll move quick. Itís one hell of an alarm sound!)
  • Program Mode - You can program up to 60 movement steps into Tri-Bot to be played back later at the press of a button.  Only movement sequences are allowed though: the 8 movements on the directional pad and the spin left/right buttons. You canít enter any of the modes like guard more, alarm mode, etc., but itís a very fun way to store a path around the rooms of your house and then have Tri-Bot run that path whenever you want (a great way to annoy family pets too!). Each movement entered from the remote control counts as one movement sequence.  Tri-Bot remembers the movement duration (how long you held the button down on the remote control) for each sequence you add.  Note, programs are lost when Tri-Botí power is turned off.
  • Free Roam - Pressing the button on the remote with the brain icon puts Tri-Bot in autonomous free roam mode. In this mode he will explore your home making humorous comments as he drives about. He will avoid obstacles and walls with his infrared detectors as best as he can. Note, he will exit free roam mode in about 3 minutes by himself, or sooner if you press another button on the remote control.

 Like most consumer robots Tri-Botís ability to navigate a difficult area is not his strong suit. A floor cluttered with objects that are below his chest and back mounted infrared proximity sensors when up close, will cause him to get stuck since those objects will not be detected.  Also, very dark surfaces (which donít reflect infrared signals well) will confuse him causing him to push against the surface instead of avoiding it. In addition, his impressive mobility works against him when he meets a wall because his wheels have a tendency to grip the wall and result in him being tipped over. Heís sturdy so itís not a problem and it ends up being funny most of the time.

 Guard Mode Scan Range (adaptive distance sensitivity) - Tri-Bot adjusts the distance that he will sense movement at based on his initial long range scan of the room before entering guard mode.  He will change his sensitivity range based on what the distance is to the nearest object he finds during his scan.  If there are objects nearby in his long range scan, which is approximately 4 to 6 feet in radius (1.2 - 1.8 meters), he'll switch to a short range scan of about 12 inches (30 centimeters).  He shortens his scan range when there are nearby objects so that they donít falsely trigger his sensors when looking for intrusions. If he seems to be ďnear-sightedĒ when it comes to sensing movement, then try placing him a larger area. If he already is in a larger area, remove any objects that may be close to him in the room if they can be moved.

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With Tri-Bot you can play 3 different driving games where Tri-Bot shows you a path, and then you have to follow the path he just laid out by driving him along it with the remote control.  To play a game you press the GAME button.  Tri-Bot will speak each game name in succession.  To select a game you press the GAME button again when Tri-Bot says the name of the game that you want to play.  There are three games you can play: Pattern, Maze, and Minefield.  In all three games Tri-Bot will make comments to let you know how are you are doing (his wisecracks are half the fun).

The Pattern Game is the simplest one where Tri-Bot drives a short path to show you what you need to do.  You then drive him around using the remote control and recreate his exact path.  Youíre allowed a small number of errors before you have lost the game. If you follow the path successfully you win.  (See below for a very important tip on playing the Pattern Game!)

The Maze Game is a fun game where Tri-Bot shows you a more complicated path than the ones youíll see in the Pattern Game. You then have a limited amount of time to drive the path he laid out.  He will give you hints to let you know if you are going in the right direction. If you run into one of the invisible maze walls he will ďbumpĒ harmlessly off it.

The Minefield Game is the last driving game where you navigate a minefield he lays out at the start of the game.  As you try to recreate the path he laid out, you use a sensor akin to the proximity sensor from the movie Aliens (minus the scary acid bleeding aliens), to help navigate the minefield.  If a mine is in front of him the proximity sensor will beep and if it is directly in front of him it will beep faster. Using these sounds you spin Tri-Bot around to find a clear spot to drive through that is along the correct path.  If you hit a mine, you get the hilarious pleasure of watching him do his blow up routine.

 Important Pattern Game Tip! - this tip is especially important for those of you with carpeted homes like mine.  Tri-Bot moves diagonally as well as in the four basic movement directions (forward, back, left, and right) when laying out the route pattern. If your floor has variances in it as most carpeted floors and even some hardwood or linoleum floors do, it can be hard to tell if Tri-Bot is moving in one of the four basic directions or trying to move diagonally, since the wheels will slip on the floor variances. This will cause him to veer off the path he intended to take which may confuse you as to what direction he actually was moving in when laying out the route pattern.

The secret here is to watch his wheels! The clues are as follows:

  • When Tri-Bot moves straight left or straight right, all three of his wheels rotate.
  • When Tri-Bot moves straight forward or backward only his front two wheels move.
  • When Tri-Bot moves diagonally he will not rotate the wheel that is directly in line with the direction he is heading into, or retreating away from (this is where the embedded black rollers come into play allowing him to roll on the wheel that is not turning when moving diagonally).

By watching Tri-Botís wheel movements you can see what movements he is actually intending to execute rather than the direction ends up going in due to variances in your floor.


WowWee has a big hit on its hands with the Tri-Bot.  Theyíve managed to create a robot that is wonderfully simple to operate, yet still is packed to the limit with fun. They did this by basing Tri-Bot on its strongest feature, its amazing mobility.  Tri-Botís personality consists of a whopping ten minutes of prerecorded audio rich with truly funny wisecracks, quips, and observations.  Iíd ding them for the free roam moe problems mentioned earlier, but with the upcoming Rovio spy bot and its accompanying powerhouse Northstar navigation technology, they obviously know what they should be doing and are bringing it to us in later models of their new robots.  Tri-Botís games are fun, his behavior modes are interesting, and heís a delight to motor around the house with. In closing I can cheerfully say that he is a wonderful robot for both technology buffs and novice robot owners alike and the perfect reasonably priced gift for any birthday or holiday.

Video Review!

Below you can watch an in-depth video review that will show everything you need to know about the Tri-Bot. This video was created after we played with the Tri-Bot solidly for several days.



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