Yesterday TechCrunch ran a piece on Supertoy Teddy, a teddy bear toy with true conversational capabilities. Co-creators Ashley Conian and Karsten Fluegge are running a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of the talking bears. These two have experience with conversational technologies. They created Jeannie, a virtual agent / voice assistant app available for the iPhone, Android, and other platforms. In fact, the Jeannie virtual assistant forms the basis of Teddy’s technology.
To get Teddy to work, you need to have the Teddy app (based on Jeannie) installed on your smartphone and your smartphone connected to the Internet. So as not to spoil the magic, you can hide the phone in a zipper pocket in Teddy’s back. That’s where you can also connect the phone to a cable the controls the bear’s robotics.
A microphone picks up voice input when you speak to Teddy and the natural language processing and chatbot capability available with the app kicks in. A speaker acts as Teddy’s voice and the robotics make his mouth open and close when he talks. The Kickstarter campaign links to an early prototype of the talking bear technology.
This is a pretty cool toy! Based on the demos, the bear’s conversational ability seems to be fairly limited at this point, but the possibilities are still intriguing. As with many virtual agents, the rumor is that the Teddy app can learn through conversations. It can supposedly remember things about its conversational partners. The creators are positioning Supertoy Teddy as just that: a toy to engage young children. But they also note on their Kickstarter page that it can serve as a companion for people of all ages.
Could Supertoy Teddy be the start of a trend? Now that virtual agents with voice activated conversational systems are available right from our smartphones, more and more of the objects around us could become true conversational partners. Why watch your TV, for instance, when you can talk to it instead? The future use cases for smart talking systems seems wide open.