Proto Max is designed for kids ages six and older to learn the basics of how programming works, but even those who don't want to deal with figuring out how to customize a robot can still play with it. With a dial on the side of Proto Max's perpetually smiling face, you can pick one of three predefined personalities: small, medium or large. These affect the pup's general temperament by adjusting the volume of its voice and how it reacts to stimuli. You can open the relatively easy-to-use iOS/Android app to assign more-specific behavioral traits afterward.
All told, there are 10 trigger points on the dog's body, including its attached ears, nose, tail and two capacitive sensors in the patch of fur on its plastic back. You can set Proto to respond to interactions with those parts in a wide variety of ways by dragging and dropping reactions to slots on an in-app diagram of the robot. During a recent demo, I customized my pup to make a happy face when I stroked her back. Although I was already anticipating her reaction, I still felt gratified when she responded as I'd expected. Her behavior was endearing, and it was also rewarding to see that my customization worked.
That behavior is what makes Proto so charming. Its transparent plastic body is not the best-looking, although Hasbro says that kids it studied liked seeing the toy's insides. But I didn't find this robot adorable just by looking at it; instead, much like my experience with real dogs, I was won over once it came to life and started responding to my touch.
There are plenty of ways Proto can react: moving around, barking (or making other sounds) and displaying different expressions on the 2.6-inch-wide LCD screen that makes up its eyes. The LEDs inside its mostly transparent body can also change color, in case you ever wished your robo-canine were a different hue. In addition to defining onetime reactions to triggers, you can also chain a series of actions together in the more advanced-looking Code part of the app. This way, you can make your pup spin around, bark three times and flash a different color when you pet it.
Some of the triggers are a little confusing, though. The microphone-input option, for instance, lets you decide what your pet does when it hears any sound, regardless of the volume or words spoken. You're most likely going to leave that blank, because, as proved during my demo, having the dog respond anytime it hears a noise gets tiring quickly. Hasbro told us that Proto doesn't recognize specific words yet. If it ever does, however, that would be a much more useful and realistic trigger. Imagine being able to decide what your robot does when it hears words such as "fetch," "nap" or "treat."