By Katarina Gustafsson
By Katarina Gustafsson
STOCKHOLM - Lego fans no longer need to fret about the cat or dog knocking over their constructions. When bothersome housepets or other pests come too close, they can ward off the intruder with one of their plastic-brick creations.
The R3PTAR, a robotic snake from Lego A/S, can be programmed from a smartphone app to attack felines, canines, and siblings -- or simply scuttle along the floor and give them something to chase. Equipped with a snapping mechanical jaw and fangs, the serpent might just send even courageous hounds, pusses and pesky kid brothers packing.
R3PTAR is among the new creations the Danish toymaker is counting on to stay relevant in the Internet age. Broadening its product range to attract older users with more complex -- and sometimes conflict-driven -- toys is helping Lego grow faster than competitors Mattel Inc. and Hasbro Inc.
Lego’s success “lies in embracing what digital can do,” Chief Marketing Officer Mads Nipper said over coffee in his toy-filled office at company headquarters in Billund, Denmark. As evidence, he points to the 20 million monthly visitors to Lego’s websites and the 100 million-plus copies of video games sold by its licensing partners.
The toymaker has come a long way from the days when it produced yo-yos, ducks and fire trucks made of wood. The company is still controlled by the family of carpenter Ole Kirk Kristiansen, who founded the business in 1932. The family also owns part of Merlin Entertainments Group Ltd, the owner of Lego theme parks.
The R3PTAR is part of a 601-piece set introduced last month that includes a programmable brick, sensors, software and motors. Known as EV3, the $350 set is the third incarnation of the Mindstorms series, introduced in 1998. It includes plans for five walking, talking and thinking robots including the snake, the scorpion-like SPIK3R and the Mohawk-sporting EV3RSTORM.
“These robots have attitude,” said product designer Lars Joe Hyldig, who spent about three years developing them. “They can surprise you” by taking on a mind of their own.
While simple enough to be built by 10-year-olds, Lego says many adults purchase Mindstorms for themselves.
“I’m looking forward to buying some of these for my nieces and nephews and “help” them put them together,” fan Tom Cullen wrote on his Twitter feed Sept. 1.
Lego invited an international group of some adult fans to help create 12 bonus models of the new robots, including an electric guitar and a bulldozer, for which building instructions are accessed online.
The fearsome-looking Mindstorms robots are unlikely to stem criticism from some fans that Lego is straying too far from the toys that have engaged children for generations.