CogniToys draw on IBM's Watson for some serious smarts

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The Dino is a "CogniToy" that wirelessly connects to IBM's Watson computer system

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Today, an interactive toy is more often than not a chatty teddy bear with a very limited repertoire, but Elemental Path is developing a "CogniToy" that would relegate such toys to the dunce's chair. The Dino CogniToy isn't just a plastic dinosaur with a chip, it's a plastic dinosaur connected to IBM's Watson artificially intelligent computer system, which makes it not simply interactive, but also a toy that can "evolve, learn, and grow" with a child.

The CogniToys concept was one of the winners of IBM's 2014 Mobile Developer's Challenge, which was aimed at finding applications that made use of Watson's cognitive computing capabilities, and its creators are now determined to take their ideas and turn them into a commercial reality. To achieve this, the Elemental Path team used 3D printing to rapidly make prototypes for testing with focus groups and volunteers before settling on a dinosaur called Dino with a big button for a belly as the design for the first CogniToy. Pressing the belly activates the toy so the child can start talking to it.

The company says that the Dino has a wide range of features. It's capable of intelligent conversations, learns about the child as it plays and becomes more attuned to the child's personality and interests. In addition, It can answer thousands of questions in an age-appropriate manner, tell stories or create new ones, and tells and responds to knock-knock jokes. It's also a learning tool, which engages the child in educational play for spelling, rhyming, vocabulary, and arithmetic, among other subjects. The idea is to blend the educational games seamlessly into regular play

The key to the CogniToys is its wireless internet connection that allows them to link to the Watson supercomputer cloud platform. This not only provides the toy with access to formidable computing power, but also the ability to evolve and develop its own unique personality as the child grows. According to the makers, CogniToys not only learn from their owners, but also from lessons learned by other CogniToys and their experiences. The result is that all the connected toys become smarter with time.

Dino is now the subject of a Kickstarter campaign aimed at moving the toy into the production phase. The hope is to introduce refinements to the design, such as a choice of colors beyond the current green. Pledge levels including a Dino start at US$99, with deliveries expected to begin from November if all goes to plan – and so far things seem to be going pretty well, with the campaign closing on in double the initial $50,000 goal after only a few days.

The team's video pitch can be viewed below.

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