Cloud Connected Toys
One of the signature toys of the 1980s was Teddy Ruxpin, a stuffed bear that could “speak” by means of an animatronic face and an embedded cassette player. Today’s equivalent is the CogniToys Dino, which lacks the robotic movement but is capable of holding dynamic and educational conversations thanks to the power of IBM’s Watson platform.
As a physical toy, the cartoonish green dino is a little underwhelming. No moving parts -- just a single button on its belly, which lets kids talk to it. But the magic is in the dialogue that occurs when the dino starts to talk back in a voice reminiscent of a certain fuzzy blue cookie aficionado.
A Wi-Fi module connects the toy to the cloud, where Watson’s “cognitive computing” power is applied to CogniToys’ speech recognition algorithms and education platform. Natural language processing is one of the toughest nuts to crack in all of computer science, as anyone familiar with the frustrations of Siri or “OK Google” knows. But if Watson’s successes at chess and Jeopardy! are any indication, holding a coherent conversation with a first-grader could be just within the realm of possibility.
When a kid first says hello, the dinosaur might start out by asking about their favorite color, favorite toys or other interests. It will use these to personalize its speech while carrying on a dynamic conversation that can lead into interactive storytelling, rhyming or numbers games. As the toy gets to know its child, the software picks up on clues that signal the kid’s stage of cognitive development. Then it draws on a database of learning games and activities, as well as the history of previous interactions, to engage the child in a conversation that’s fun, educational, and developmentally appropriate.
Parents seem to like the dialogue-based interaction, which preserves an element of imagination in play and learning. They can use a web-based dashboard to provide additional information about their child, check in on the kid’s progress through various educational modules, and choose content priorities to steer the conversation in a certain direction.
The first version of the dino, which can be preordered on Kickstarter through March 18, will run on four AA batteries with enough juice for about two months of intermittent playtime. Later versions of the toy may have rechargeable batteries, new designs and other features. And because the software that directs the conversation lives in the cloud, updates to improve the algorithms and add content can be made at any time.
Elemental Path , the company producing the CogniToys line, won the grand prize in the IBM Watson Mobile App Developer Challenge last year with a prototype app (then under the name Majestyk Apps). The technology that powers CogniToys grew out of that work, and could be extended to other toys down the road.
Learn more about CogniToys in the video below.