Posted by: crudbasher | March 30, 2015

Huggables: Another Step Towards Smart Toys

As a Father of a 2 year old boy I have been watching with great interest how he learns. While my wife and I have been trying to teach him as much as we can, I realize that most of what he learns he picks up himself. He has so much to learn so how could it be any other way? He really enjoys using smart phones and playing games. We limit that to just 20 min a day but I can see how much he likes doing it and he has taken to it very quickly.

Projecting into the future, I can see how this sort of technology will make its way into toys. We already have learning toys such as Leap Frog type toys but they are very single function devices. A smart phone is a multi purpose device which is getting more useful each year. If you couple smart phone technology with robotics you can come up with a smart toy which can always be with a child as a companion. This toy can also teach the child new things in an adaptable fashion.

Recently I wrote about a prototype smart toy on Kickstarter. I mentioned that I was expecting them to also be robotic. Well, that is becoming more realistic too.

Here’s a new prototype of a robotic bear for use in children’s hospitals. H/T Wired

Under a pilot study, happening at Boston Children’s Hospital, sick tykes interact with Huggable in their rooms. They shake his paw, tell him jokes (he claims to not know any), and play I Spy with him. Watching this video, you marvel not so much at the little guy’s movements, though they’re adorable, but at his smarts. He refers to others in the room by name, and makes clever guesses when Aurora, the patient, tells him she spies something blue (hint, it’s not him). Turns out, his behaviors and conversation are controlled by a so-called Wizard-of-Oz operator on a nearby laptop. You can read more about the study design here.

Now that is very cool. Notice though that it isn’t fully autonomous; it is still controlled by an operator. Now if we can just combine the Kickstarter smart toy with the Huggable body. 🙂

Here’s a video of it in action.

One of the arguments I always hear about when I speculate how teachers will be replaced by computers is that computers aren’t empathetic. That might be true but can it fake being empathetic? Maybe children won’t know the difference. We will see but I think this technology will be in homes within the next few years.

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