Toys have come a long way since I was a kid. There are still some classics that have stood the test of time, like Lego, Etch-A Sketch, Barbie and one of my personal favorites, Mr. Potato Head. But for the most part, toys have gone the way of new technology, with various video games and electronics dominating children’s wish lists.
And while there’s nothing new about a talking toy – an intelligent talking toy is definitely something that will grab the attention of kids today. It will take a lot of computer code and processing power to pick up on human conversation and process it, but one company is trying to make this futuristic toy technology a reality.
ToyTalk is a new start-up based in San Francisco and they are hoping to make the first child friendly iPad app that will actually talk. You might already be familiar with their work, especially if you have seen any of the Toy Story animated films. Founder and CEO Oren Jacob worked at Pixar for 20 years as their Chief Technology Officer, while Bobby Podesta was the Supervising Animator on Toy Story 3. Martin Reddy is the venture’s CTO, and he spent five years at SRI International, being responsible for Siri.
The ToyTalk app works with an iPad or other tablet. The camera will work to display a real-time image of the child and his or her favourite toy onscreen. Users can talk to their toy and vice versa. The company recently put out the following teaser trailer while raising $11 million in Series A funding, bringing it’s total investment capital raised to $16 million. The trailer doesn’t really give away much concerning how the technology will perform, but based on the level of interest and the amount of investment, the company may be onto something.
I have mixed feelings about this one. While the suggested capabilities of this toy app with seemingly artificial intelligence is impressive, do our children really need more electronic devices to further detach them from reality and human relationships? Do kids need a talking bear to play and explore and use their imagination? I remember as a child wanting to finish my homework so I could run outside to build a fort out of a cardboard box with my friends. Running to my room myself to dim the lights and talk to a stuffed animal on an iPad screen seems a bit sad to me and even creepy. No thanks. Please pass the Mr. Potato Head. For now, back to the cage.