Google's experimental X labs have produced some fabulous examples of what happens when time, effort and cash are sunk into blue sky, or moon shot, projects. These have included the self-driving car, Google Glass and now it seems the talking teddy bear. A recently discovered patent, filed by Google's X labs in 2012, describes connected toys able to interact with customers (presumably children) as well as control connected devices around the home. The patent creator, Richard Wayne DeVaul, is the "director of rapid evaluation and mad science" at Google's experimental X labs. The patent also details how the toy contains a number of sensors including microphones and cameras. It can interact with people via speakers and motors, plus the toy has a wireless connection to the Internet.
It appears that some of the technology that was put into the toy patent has seen service since. These include a trigger word or expression, similar to "Okay, Google" that we use for our smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, Chromebooks and even the desktop browser. The toy is also designed to be as lifelike as possible and to assist with this, is able to simulate human-like reactions to the person or child playing with the toy. In the words of Richard, "To express interest, an anthropomorphic device may open its eyes, lift its head and / or focus its gaze on the user. To express curiosity, [it] may tilt its head, furrow its brow, and / or scratch its head with an arm."
Whilst the ability to mimic a human-like response is admirable, it is how the device was not just to be considered a child's toy but instead to include functionality that allows the machine to control home electronics, such as DVD players, thermostats, windows and curtains. The device would also have the ability to record video and audio conversations and where a child may be using the toy, this raises some privacy concerns. We have, however, seen other companies develop connected and interactive toys although given Google's reputation for data collection and redistribution, things are perhaps a little different here. Plus in three years we have also seen new ideas emerging when it comes to technologies that rely on the Internet of Things. Nevertheless, the idea of a connected toy able to record children playing is likely to remain in the patent books for the time being. The world isn't yet ready.