Toys that Talk to Kids

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Thanks to voice-enabled technology, today’s talking toys are a long way from the pull-string talking dolls and the twirling See ’n Says of years past. More toys than ever include speech software that allow for interaction to varied degrees. Some toys, for example, include artificial intelligence capabilities, which means kids can talk with these toys and have them respond to their requests, creating the sense of a conversation.

Below, we look at seven examples of products that talk back—or at least respond to commands and communicate with their young users in some way. 

The Plushie and the App

// Talkie //

No screens, just talk, says Toymail USA, which bills its Talkie plush toy as a “simple way for kids to voice chat with their friends and grown-ups.” The Wi-Fi-enabled Talkies receive voice messages from users of the Toymail app and read them aloud. “With the Talkie, kids as young as 3 can for the first time send a voice message,” says Gauri Nanda, the company’s founder. “They just push a button on the back of their Talkie.”

In a video example, a child asks, via the Talkie, if she can stay up later. Her father receives the message via his app and answers back, “No, it’s time for bed now.” The message is recorded and played through the Talkie in its own voice. Talkie owners are encouraged to create their own “trusted friend circle” including parents, grandparents, and friends.

When Nanda pitched Toymail USA on television’s Shark Tank, she received $600,000 from two Shark Tank investors who in exchange got 5% of her company. The Talkies take seven shapes, including Nunu, the unicorn; Chuck, the sloth; and Boonut, the bunny. The Talkie’s have a removable Talkiebox inside that can be swapped into another Talkie.

Conversations on Cue

// Cue //

Cue is a robot on wheels that users can control via an app and even use Block or JavaScript programming to code their own interactions with it. Children—or users of any age—can engage in “witty” chat sessions with the robot, from Wonder Workshop USA. You can also choose the avatar—or personality—for your robot that appeals to you.

The company’s Dash robot also connects to the app. While both robots can detect the direction a voice is coming from and turn toward the voice, Cue can hold a conversation only through text-based chat messaging, as it doesn’t include voice-recognition software. What it does have is a vocabulary of more than 170,000 words and 30,000 chat responses. The user texts question via the app to get Cue talking and then continues the conversation by texting responses, then hearing Cue’s responses.

Build Your Own Friend

// Meccanoid //

Kids who want to build their own robotic companion can talk their parents into “a personal robot friend they can build using the latest Meccano parts.” The toymaker Meccano has its roots in the Erector sets introduced in 1913, and the build-it-yourself aspect remains with these 4-foot-tall robots, the Meccanoid 2.0 and Meccanoid XL 2.0. 

“Both robots, when built from the provided parts, respond to your voice commands with more than 10,000 preprogrammed phrases, including jokes and fun facts,” the company says. Because the Meccanoids use active listening, they can’t respond to further voice commands when they’re already working on one. “Meccanoid will beep to let you know when it is ready for a command. Always wait for the beep before giving a command.” 

A Smarty Pants Speaker

// Smart Creature //

Smarty, whose full name is Smart Creature, is under development by Siliconic Home. Its makers describe Smarty as an Amazon Echo for kids. The voice user interface device connects to Siliconic’s AI cloud platform “for kid-centric educational and entertainment content,” according to its maker.

The product uses the company’s proprietary juvenile voice recognition engine to better understand children’s voices and their unique speech patterns, according to a company statement. While the device is similar to the Echo in terms of what it does, it is meant to assist children throughout the day. For instance, it acts as an alarm clock to wake kids up on time; when a child makes a verbal request, the device can turn the bedroom lights up or down. 

The device can also coach kids who are learning a foreign language by pronouncing a foreign word for them or reading aloud passages written in that language. It also helps kids with their homework by answering specific questions, such as “What year did the American Revolutionary War begin?” What’s more, Smarty can take over bedtime story duties from tired parents.

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