Wednesday, 24 July 2013

SuperToy Talking Teddy Bear

The SuperToy Talking Teddy Bear uses voice recognition and speech technology combined with access to the internet to allow him to have conversations with his owner. 

He uses a Android phone or iPhone as his local brain and is designed as an interactive toy and tool for children from 8+ and teens and adults too.

SuperToy is currently running as a Kickstarter project to get funding to complete development and produce a first set of talking bears.

This is a very interesting idea and I'm intrigued. I'm a little confused about the teddy bear format and aiming at an older audience. This may be just the first step. I can see tweens and teens enjoying a talking Zombie plush or some other cool character rather than a cuddly bear.

And I can see that there would be additional challenges in the language handling to create a toy suitable for younger children. He needs to have the language of Teddy Ruxpin rather than TED ...

The idea of SuperToy being connected to the internet and being able to answer factual questions is fascinating. It's more engaging and natural than talking to a smart phone.

SuperToy will also be able to read bedtime stories, play music, check the weather, set alarms and lots more practical features.

Even for the 8+ audience I think the team have a challenge in ensuring that the dialogue is child-friendly without being overly restrictive. The technology is based on the Jeannie personal assistant software (a Siri-like app) which is already well-established and they say they are "working on the engine to make it run much deeper child friendly dialogues." They are also working on a new voice for Teddy.

Here's the story of how they came up with SuperToy:

You can also get a look at Teddy's insides in this video that shows his robotics (his mouth moves when he talks) and gives a live demonstration:

I think SuperToy is an interesting step in the direction of fully interactive robot toys that act as companions and information sources for kids. They hope to add sensors and motion to SuperToy in future. The naming seems to be a nod to the Sci-Fi robot companions of Aldiss and Kubrick.

"Is there any Viking LEGO?"
I just showed Teddy to my boys aged 5 and nearly 7. The boys got the idea immediately and could see the potential. The older one wanted to ask him facts about Vikings and the younger one wanted to talk to him about LEGO. Then they decided they wanted to ask him if there's any Viking LEGO. (Thanks Teddy, if you tell them that I'm going to be trawling eBay for discontinued Viking LEGO sets.)

One of the potential features that stands out to me is language teaching. Teddy can speak over 30 languages and there are plans for local voices. Wouldn't it be brilliant if he could teach languages to children?

The project has factored toy safety testing into the timeline which we always want to see with a product aimed at children. They hope to ship the first SuperToys in December 2013. They are asking a reasonable £39 / $59 for a SuperToy including UK or US shipping. You'll need to provide the smart phone.

Pledge: SuperToy Teddy

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