Hi-Tech for Hyastan: IT specialist has Armenians in mind with world’s first “smart rabbit”

Imagine having a rabbit in charge of your public transportation schedule.

We’ll get to that in a minute . . .

An Armenian in Paris has developed the latest gizmo of Information Technology that has earned Time magazine’s moniker of “the 21st Century’s pet rock” and is earning the adoration of residents of “Nabaztagland” who are paying 95 Euros (about $120) for the hi-tech novelty faster than its producers can keep up with demand.

It has made news on CNN International, “Elle” magazine, International Herald Tribune newspaper and others, and has been a hit at electronics conventions in France.

Part toy, part virtual pet, part robot, it wouldn’t be right to call the device “cuddly” since its tube-like ears and flashing lights are covered in hard plastic, 23 centimeters tall. But the blinking bunny is creating warm and fuzzy feelings throughout Europe and hopes to do the same soon in North America.

If you have access to wireless Internet (alas, private users in Armenia do not), here’s what Nabaztag can do for you:

  • Alert you of email or sms, even when you’re not at your computer or mobile phone
  • Wake you up with whatever message you want to hear in whatever language you want to hear it
  • Provide weather and stock market information
  • Play your favorite song
  • Communicate with other Nabaztag owners through ear movements
  • Produce “Nabcast” broadcast to others in “Nabaztagland”

Necessary? Probably not. A conversation piece? No doubt.

If you don’t know by now, “Nabaztag” is the (Western) Armenian word for rabbit (hare).

And Rafi Haladjian is the name of its inventor.

Explanations for how the energized bunny work are better left to the experts at www.nabaztag.com.

But in an interview from Paris, its creator told ArmeniaNow about the invention’s decidedly Armenian identity.

“People in (for example) Thailand don’t even know what an Armenian is,” says Haladjian, who is a native of Lebanon and has visited Armenia twice since 1990. But when they find out why the hi-tech hare has this strange name “they learn something about Armenia”.

Haladjian, 44, has been working in IT for 25 years. He is the founder of technology companies Fluxus (sold to British Telecom in 2001) and Ozone.

Nabaztag first surfaced last summer and is now being sold in upscale boutiques in France, Belgium and Switzerland. And while it is the wi-fi (wireless fidelity) wonder de jour, Haladjian also hopes it is an ambassador.

“Some (Diaspora) are ashamed of their heritage so they change their name,” Haladjian says. “But Armenian is as good as Japanese. So why not call it by an Armenian name? Simple. Straightforward.”

Haladjian brought his family here for a visit in 2004 and he is now engaged with engineers who are working to set up wireless Internet access in Gyumri. (With a few exceptions, such as the Marriott Hotel and the Club, there is no wi-fi in Yerevan.)

If the Gyumri project is successful, Armenians there could become “Nabaztagland” citizens by the end of this year.

Till then, imagine a day when a plastic rabbit with an Armenian name might announce bus schedules . . .

According to Haladjian, plans are at hand for linking Nabaztag with the public transport system in Paris. Through connection with the city network information system, Nabaztag would have the ability to alert commuters as the bus on their route approached.

Haladjian says the rabbit would have a signal that would alert it when the appropriate bus was two stops away and would alert its owner by “shouting”: “The bus is coming! The bus is coming!”

Or, if the owner chooses: “Aftobusa galis eh! Aftobusa galis eh!”

(Click here for a Nabaztag flash animation.)