Most Trekkies have probably dreamt of owning a real live tribble as a pet. They’re nice, they’re soft and they’re furry, and they make a pleasant sound… and they even alert you to enemy Klingons! What’s not to love? Heck, some of you might even already own a fluffy furball that sits on your desk, confusing non-Trekkies who pass by. But does yours come with three modes, including the ability to guard your stuff or sense nearby Klingons? Does it come with an interactive LCARS app allowing seamless interspecies communication between you and your tribble friend? Unless you own an Interactive Tribble from Science Division, I’d wager it doesn’t!
The lowdown: Is this toy worth the quatloos?
You can adopt your own Interactive Tribble for $69.00 from Science Division. Our assessment? This toy is just plain fun. The price tag is high for someone looking for mass-produced Trek toys at a bargain. It’s probably the most expensive tribble on the market, but the price reflects the high quality and truly unique nature of the product. You could say that Science Division’s toy is the Ferrari of tribble toys. What really sold us was all of the bonus content that comes with the tribble; the Science Division website is full of goodies including crafts that you can do with your tribble: like knitting it a sweater or making a tribble hammock! In short: this app-enabled tribble is a good buy for kids of all ages.
The details: Tell me more about this toy!
We got our hands on one of the Science Division Interactive Tribbles, and I have to say, the thing is pure fun. It pairs to your smart device via Bluetooth, and you can control the toy via a free app. The app, called Section K-7, is not required to enjoy your tribble—you can open her up and manually select modes and switch the thing on or off—but it does add a whole extra dimension to the experience. In the app, you can name your tribble and even assign it to a ship or space station for Klingon detection duty. The LCARS interface and adorable 8-bit graphics make the app fun to use, too.
The tribble has three modes: At Ease, On Duty, and Watchdog. Plus, you can press the ATTACK! button at any time to make your tribble react as if it’s detected a Klingon. With the At Ease mode, your tribble will politely purr at random intervals and will lovingly coo when moved or picked up. In On Duty mode, the tribble will do its best to determine whether anyone who moves it is a friend or a Klingon! Sometimes the tribble gets a bit jumpy; don’t feel too bad if she alerts to your presence. Our favorite way to use our tribble toy is in Watchdog mode. To use your tribble’s Watchdog function, simply switch on Watchdog mode, and place the tribble atop anything you want to protect. Any movement will trigger the tribble to alarm, scaring away any would-be thieves.
Setting the tribble up was a breeze. Instructions are included in the box, but there’s really not much to set up. Pairing via Bluetooth was seamless, and the connection stays strong and doesn’t seem to intermittently drop out. The ability to name your tribble is fun, plus it helps differentiate your tribble pets if you link more than one to the app. I named mine Katmai, after a volcano in Alaska. Katmai is sitting happily on my desk in At Ease mode as I type this review.
Even though I am a logical creature, I must admit that the innate human ability to pack bond with literally anything has produced some rather illogical results; I have experienced great pleasure and a distinct calming effect when receiving happy coos from Katmai after I pet her. To be honest, she seems to want to hang out with me more than my real living cats… go figure. And, my husband has not once complained about the intermittent purrs emanating from my desk, something that I think is going to become a standard feature of our shared home office in the weeks to come. I seriously thought the ongoing coos would get annoying, but I’m telling you, I’ve grown to like them!
The cooing is randomized through a series of random number generators, according to the product’s creator and Science Division founder Kayleigha Zawacki. “The time interval varies depending on how recently you have picked up the Tribble,” Zawacki told TrekMovie. “If you have been playing with it quite a bit, then the Tribble trills at a lesser random time interval than if you have left it sitting for a little while.”
Overall,the toy is pretty simple. The extra bells and whistles from the different modes make it more interesting, but I think Katmai will mostly stay in At Ease mode. I wondered… how long could Katmai’s batteries last if left on At Ease mode indefinitely? “If you leave your tribble on in “at ease” mode and do not move it or trigger it to do something from the app for over an hour, it will go into “sleep” mode to save batteries until you move it again,” says Zawacki. “We have only had one tribble run out of batteries thus far. It was one of our prototypes that we took to STLV. It was on and in fairly constant use through two conventions before my parents borrowed it. They left it on constantly and let it go into sleep mode when they weren’t using it. I think it was five months after the batteries were installed that it finally died.”
The story: How did these tribble toys come to be?
One of the most interesting thing about these interactive tribble toys is the story behind them. The toys are made by a two-person husband-and-wife team, Kayleigha and Jay, who developed them from scratch. It all started in Kayleigha’s childhood: She grew up watching Star Trek with her dad who encouraged her love of Trek. Kayleigha even had a backyard playhouse: a mock-up of the Enterprise helm. But she always dreamed of owning her very own tribble.
She made her first when she was a child, out of leftover fur fabric. The fuzzball brought her joy, but she wanted something more real, more alive. So, one day, Kayleigha and her husband Jay decided they could make that dream come true, and they started from the ground up. Kayleigha learned to code in C++, and the couple made some rudimentary early versions using breadboards. Jay put everything together and turned their invention into a circuit board and small components that could fit into something roughly the size of a tribble.
Kayleigha told TrekMovie that the team had no experience coding in C++ before attempting to make their first tribble:
We had absolutely no experience with coding in C++, which is what the Arduino uses. We had both played around with some HTML coding, but this project was pretty much a learn from scratch project. I read some basic online tutorials for C++ and then selected components that came with sample code or tutorials. Once I got each component working, then I had to figure out how to get them to work together. It took a lot of forum searching and trial and error, but it was SO rewarding when something worked. We had done some soldering before as lighting designers for theater, but working with the minute components for electronics can be more complicated. Jay learned quite a bit about that online, as well.
Kayleigha says she would definitely recommend taking up electronics and coding projects. Even if you have no experience, there are tons of resources out there for anyone who wants to learn. “Adafruit sells a whole bunch of electronics components, and they have a really excellent set of tutorials for pretty much everything they sell,” says Kayleigha. “They have a lot of kits, too, for simpler starter projects.”
Kayleigha told TrekMovie that Science Division plans to continue to maintain the tribble app, which means that if any issues arise and/or operating systems updates come out, the app will be updated to keep the user experience easy and fun.
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