A huggable, talking intelligent toy robot? Oh yeah!

Fun, intelligent robot that I'd actually want as a friend and mentor
July 29, 2013 by Amara D. Angelica

Supertoy Robotics Ltd. has created Supertoy, aka “Teddy” — a cute, talkative robot teddy bear with a New-York-comedian attitude and a surprisingly realistic voice — and just started a Kickstarter campaign for it.

As you can see in the video, he converses fluently and naturally. He should be a huge hit with kids and adults alike.

Think a less-complicated  Zeno or MIT Media Lab Huggable, but affordable.

As noted, to ramp up production, Supertoy Robotics is seeking crowdfunding on Kickstarter. A pledge of £39 (about $60) will get you one of the first bears about a month before they ship in December.

Supertoy Robotics’ Ashley Conlan, Kartsen Fluegge, and friend

According to England-based Supertoy Robotics’ CEO Ashley Conlan, Supertoy can speak 30 languages out of the box, and because it gets its smarts in real time from the web, the company can easily upgrade it and do updates, he explained to me.

The magic is in the software

The Supertoy technology is Siri-like, but better, because it’s not just a Q&A but a continuous conversation; and Teddy will also remember past discussions. It has “evolved” from Supertoy Robotics’ popular Jeannie chatbot (for iPhone, iPad, and Android) — but is far more advanced.

The robot’s hardware is simple: just an audio in/out interface and a motor for mouth animation. Teddy connects via standard 4-segment audio plug to an iPhone 4+, iPad2+, iPod touch 3G+, or Android (2.3 +) smartphone or device  — Conlan suggests putting the phone inside the Supertoy for realism.

“The magic is in the software, not the robot,” Conlan explained to me. Assuming you have a smartphone data plan or WiFi, the server detects your language and converts your speech to text. Your question or comment then goes to the Supertoy Robotics server, which generates a natural-language audio reply that goes (via the smart phone or device) back to Teddy’s speaker.

Teddy “evolved” from Jeannie, a popular Siri-like app for iOS (iPhone, etc.) and Android, said Karsten Flügge, with more than 3 million downloads, created by Pannous (of which he  is CEO). You can get a rough idea of how Teddy works in this impressive demo of Jeannie (formerly Voice Actions), but Teddy is even more realistic. (I’ve been “talking” to Jeannie for a few days on my iPad — and on an Android Nexus 7, where she’s more developed — and I’m impressed.)

Siri on steroids

Like Jeannie, you can ask questions or engage in conversation, and actually learn things. You can also ask it to make calls for you, give you a wakeup-call, find the nearest restaurant, launch apps, and other Siri-like stuff, and it “safely searches the web,” said Conlan.

“Supertoy is fun and playful for children and can also be their first introduction to the world of the Internet,” said Conlan. “It is designed to be used in a safe and child-friendly manner, so only age-appropriate information is shared.

“This allows children to learn from the vast amounts of educational material online, without parents having to worry. Being connected to the Internet also means Supertoy upgrades over time and becomes better and better as it learns. It reads bedtime stories, sings songs, and answers all those pesky ‘why’ questions.”

Supertoy Robotics also just announced Sunday a new role-playing feature. For example: a child says, “Teddy, let’s play cowboys.” Teddy role-plays like a cowboy, says things like “howdy partner,” and when the child has finished playing role play, he or she says, “Teddy, stop playing cowboy.” Teddy outfits (cowboy, wizard, marine, footballer, fisherman, etc.) will also be available.

However, “Supertoy is not scripted,” said Conlan. “I don’t know what he is going to say for sure.” (It does have a blacklist for NSFW words though.) “At the end of a demo, when I said ‘Bye Now,’ Supertoy responded, ‘Will that accomplish your objective?’ That was totally a surprise.”

I can’t wait to talk to (and hug) Teddy when he arrives.

Supertoy Kickstarter

UPDATE July 31, 2013: Supertoy Kickstarter reaches £30,000 goal, with 22 days to spare, Ashley Conlan announces.

Amara D. Angelica is Editor of KurzweilAI