Neiman-Marcus, reliable as always, has come up with the right gift for that hard-to-shop-for person in the medium range ($12,500 to $20,000) on your Christmas list. If he already has two or three videotape machines and really doesn't use the polo pony you gave him last year, if he already has a $13,000 Audemars Piguet gold watch or remains stubbornly loyal to his old Timex, the obvious answer is the ComRo 1 Domestic Robot System, the most complete, untiring and uncomplaining domestic service that has been offered anywhere since the abolition of slavery.
Developed by Ultimation Inc. and marketed exclusively through Neiman-Marcus, the ComRo 1, according to claims in the catalogue, will "uncomplainingly open doors, serve guests, take out trash, bring in the paper, sweep, fetch, do light hauling, water the plants, pick up after children (and pets), caddy at the putting green, walk the dog -- and a host of other tasks and missions." The picture in the catalogue shows it pouring wine (the label is unreadable, but it looks like perhaps a decent Pouilly-Fuisse') with its right arm -- apparently there is no left arm. To keep your robot company, Neiman-Marcus is also offering (for a mere $650) "Wires," a radio-controlled robot pet that shakes its head, wags its tail, squeaks, lights up or blinks, and will not mess your rug or sharpen its claws on the furniture. Wires is shown crawling up the leg of the man holding the wine glass, or perhaps shining his shoes. Everyone in the picture is smiling. The unit runs around on six wheels.
Some effort seems to have been made to achieve an Artoo Deetoo appearance; the basic unit is about the right height and color, and it has rows of colored lights, plenty of push buttons and some kind of video scanning apparatus. But there are too many straight lines and square corners, not nearly enough curves for a true "Star Wars" effect.
A smaller photo shows the robot out of action but surrounded by its various attachments, which include a vacuum cleaner operated by the same arm that pours the wine, a video screen, a remote-control unit and what looks like a video screen but may be a fancy picnic basket. It will also light cigarettes. It will run for about two hours on the kind of battery you probably have in your car.
Prices range from $15,000 to $17,500, depending on the kind of accessories you want (for example, color rather than black-and-white television).
Is this what America has been waiting for? A Neiman-Marcus representative said that there have been some queries but so far "it is not selling real heavily. But it's only been out for two days."