If you thought Tickle Me Elmo and Sony’s Aibo were cool holiday gifts, wait until you see Cindy Smart.

Looking like the baby of some Baywatch star, Cindy Smart has blue eyes and long blonde hair, and comes with a pink shirt and blue overalls.

All of that hides her most striking features, however: A digital camera, voice recognition software and a 16-bit microprocessor. And though Baywatch gets criticized for lacking intelligence, Cindy Smart can read, tell time, identify pictures, identify colors, identify shapes, speak, listen and, amazingly, remember what she learns.

Cheap tricks

Toy Quest, makers of such producs as Tekno the robot puppy, aim to bring Cindy Smart to toy shelves this fall for about $100 in a limited production run of 10,000 dolls. The price includes a chair, a bulletin board and a CD with 33 lessons.

To make Cindy smart for the $100 price tag took lots of work. Toy Quest says it spent 10 years cramming in her abilities. Engineers began by researching affordable artificial intelligence, then worked on adding senses such as vision.

The doll sees when she’s prompted to use her vision, such as when asked to look at a shape. Her digital camera then scans for such things as numbers or letters and her microprocessor compares what it finds with information in a database.

Currently, Cindy can read English, French, Spanish, German and Italian, and by next year will be reading Japanese. And as processing power increases, Toy Quest anticipates creating dolls that can read entire sentences and even recognize faces.