Just tried the self-transforming Optimus Prime Elite – and it’s insanely expensive nostalgia

There’s a lot of money to be made by tapping Gen-X’s childhood memories with disposable income. Lego has figured this out with their Star Wars collectible sets, and others are taking advantage of this by mining other 80s IPs.

The Robosen Optimus Prime Elite is an admittedly fun, but pricey toy — $699 — that will delight the inner child of any 40-something who grew up watching Transformers cartoons. I know I was definitely tickled the first time I said “Optimus Prime, come on” and saw the robot transform from a tractor-trailer to Autobot leader.

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Optimus Prime Elite in truck form

(Image credit: future)

The Optimus Prime Elite is the second robot of its kind made by Robosen – the original Optimus was released last year in a limited-edition model that costs $1,199 (it’s still available, if you just won the Powerball lottery).

This year’s model is slightly scaled down, but still stands 16 inches tall and contains 60 microchips and 27 high-precision servos so that Optimus can not only transform from a truck to a robot, but also swing his arms, move his legs, and drive on command.

Optimus comes pre-programmed with 43 commands and you can create custom commands using the Robosen app.

Optimus’ speech is provided by Peter Cullen, the original voice actor for the animated series as well as the Michael Bay-directed franchise. Personally, I’d rather drop $700 on this robot than watch any of his movies.

Optimus Prime Elite

(Image credit: future)

In my work, I see a lot of technology, so I can be a little jaded at times. However, the first (and second and third) time I saw the Optimus Prime Elite transform, I couldn’t help but exclaim “that’s awesome!”

You can either control the robot using your voice – a vehicular Alexa, if you will – or use the app to control its movements, like driving it.

There’s a small directional pad that lets you drive Optimus around or, if he’s in robot form, walk him around. The directional pad is small and stuck in the bottom left corner of the app, making it harder to control.

Optimus’ movements when walking seem a bit precarious – in fact, he fell several times even on a very thin desk rug – but he moved quite well on hardwood floors and was more mobile than the robot of Elon Musk of the same name.

Some of the newer things you can do for Optimus include a hero’s pose – bent knees, with one fist on the ground. You can also make it do push-ups, but as my colleague Marshall Honorof said, why would a robot need to do push-ups?

The app also lets you create custom actions in two ways: you can manually move Optimus’ limbs into different poses, and the app will record it as a macro. Or, you can use a block-based approach in the app.

Optimus Prime Elite

(Image credit: future)

When the robot is on and idle, Optimus rocks back and forth a bit, as if shaking at the thought of fighting with the Decepticons. Occasionally he’ll strike a pose or exclaim something, which can be a little startling if you forget you left him.

The robot comes with Optimus’ blaster and battle axe, which you must manually attach to his hands – and don’t forget to remove them before trying to turn him into a truck.

Optimus is powered by a 1200mAh Li-polymer battery; its grille folds down to reveal a charging port and a microUSB port.

Can you enjoy $700 of fun with a voice-activated, self-transforming Transformer before the novelty wears off? It depends on the depth of your nostalgia for anthropomorphized automobiles. And I’m not talking about the Go-Bots.

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