It starts like a contortionist -- arms at its sides, head down, legs tucked behind its torso. But once its chest speaker starts pumping out those block-rocking beats, this plastic party animal folds his funk into an upright and rocked position. He's mRobo Ultra Bass, and he's here to get this party started.
Yes, we've come full circle: from humans dancing like robots, to robots dancing like humans ... dancing like robots. This toy's moves might be stiffer than a giraffe on ice skates, but manufacturer TOSY hopes you'll focus on what it says sets its toy apart: the ability to match its moves to the music. Such claims leave us to wonder whether Justin Bieber intended to introduce mRobo at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show (commonly known as CES) in Las Vegas, or pass the baton, one plastic, manufactured celebrity to another.
Basically, mRobo Ultra Bass is a battery-powered portable speaker that doubles as an 18-inch (46-centimeter) dancing robot (tragically, our tough economy forces even toy robots to work two jobs). The automatic Astaire packs two gigabytes of memory -- enough to store roughly 500 tracks, assuming 3 minutes 30 seconds per songs at 128 Kbps encoding, but your mileage may vary [sources: Sandisk; TOSY Robotics].
Once you've uploaded your tunes via the handy USB port, select your jam using the included remote. According to the manufacturer, mRobo can perform its preprogrammed dance moves to its own music, music from other devices or music streamed via Bluetooth.
But does this pantomime of popping and locking qualify as dancing?
If you run mRobo's Vietnamese taglines through Google's translator, the phrase "great dancing" translates as "jump beautiful." Whether that's accurate or not, it's kind of poetic. Still, it makes us wonder: Is dance strictly a human phenomenon?
Happy Feet aside, research suggests that a few animals -- parrots and elephants -- can move to the beat of music [source: CBS News]. But does rocking to a rhythm capture the artistic totality contained in the concept of dance? As famed American dancer and choreographer Martha Graham once said, "We look at the dance to impart the sensation of living in an affirmation of life, to energize the spectator into keener awareness of the vigor, the mystery, the humor, the variety and the wonder of life."
Perhaps that's a question for later generations. All I know is, mRobo does better on the dance floor than most guys at my high school; at least he lifts his arms above his waist.