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A connected toy that can evolve over time and learn with kids
IBM’s supercomputer Watson is powering a line of smart toys that can learn and grow with children.
CogniToys, created by US startup Elemental Path, use speech recognition so they can have intelligent conversations with kids. The first toy in the line is a cute green dinosaur that can tell jokes and stories. It can even answer questions, like ‘How far is the moon?’ or ask queries like ‘What’s two plus two?’ Kids simply push the dinosaur’s belly to initiate a conversation.
The toys are designed to be entertaining and educational, featuring content around rhyming, spelling, vocabulary and maths. The more a child plays with their CogniToy and learns, the more challenging the content becomes. The toy also becomes smarter the more it’s used; for example, it caches responses to questions it has already answered, so that it can answer that same query even quicker next time.
That said, the toy won’t answer every question. If a child asks what the team calls ‘Mommy questions’, such as ‘Where do babies comes from?’, the CogniToy instructs them to ask a parent instead. Parents can also keep track of their child’s interests and the questions they have asked through the Parent Panel.
The CogniToys are personalised and get to know their child owners by name. They even note their interests and favourite colours and toys, using this information to make playtime a more engaging experience. This personalisation aspect means that, although the toys are geared towards children aged four to seven, a four-year-old will have a different experience playing with their CogniToy than a seven-year-old. The toys even develop their own personalities over time.
The connected toy is cloud-based, allowing the developers to continuously adapt their platform based on how kids are playing with the toys. The technology has been developed so that it can be built into other toys and the designers envisage the toys being used in conjunction with educational apps.
Elemental Path developed the CogniToys after receiving the Grand Prize at IBM Watson Mobile App Developer Challenge last year, and winning the contest gave the team access to IBM Watson’s brain. This week they have launched a Kickstarter campaign to help bring the toys to market and have smashed through their $50,000 goal in just one day. The startup hopes to start shipping the toys in November.
Elemental Path’s Kickstarter campaign comes at the same time as Mattel has announced it is releasing a connected Barbie. The toy maker is partnering with startup ToyTalk to launch Hello Barbie, a doll that uses speech recognition to enable it to have two-way conversations with kids. Like the CogniToys, Hello Barbie will be able to tell jokes and stories.
Contagious Insight /
What’s in it for Watson / IBM has made no secret of its plans to turn Watson into big business, with CEO Ginni Rometty telling theWall Street Journal that it could be a $10bn business. Projects like the CogniToy show the potential for the supercomputer, demonstrating that it can do more than just win Jeopardy, and actually provide a useful cloud service.
Parent-approved fun / The success of Elemental Path’s product rests on just how engaging an experience its green dinosaur can deliver. Obviously, if the CogniToy is no fun, then no kid is going to want to play it. We’ve reported on the growth of artificial intelligence bots in the home, from Amazon’s Echo speaker to personal assistant Jibo. The CogniToy mirrors some aspects of those devices: it’s friendly, connected and smart enough to talk to you, but Elemental Path demonstrates just how appealing this kind of technology can be to kids in particular.
Importantly, this isn’t just another educational app. There are no screens here and all the tech is hidden instead in a cuddly toy, something that might be attractive to parents who worry about how much time their kids are passively sitting in front of a screen. ‘We felt it was the right time for something like this to happen,’ co-founder Donald Coolidge told TechCrunch. ‘Kids are using iPhones and tablets much more than most parents would like them to, when the benefits are not very clear.’
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