As a kid, I lusted after Teddy Ruxpin, an ultra-popular animatronic talking bear that read stories via a built-in audio tape deck. So I understand the thinking behind ToyBots, a project unveiled today at TechCrunch50 that connects toys to the Internet in a bid to make products like Tickle Me Elmo more interactive. But let’s be honest–this thing is just creepy.
Toybots, described by its developers at online gaming network SGN as the “Kindle of toys”, is an open-source platform that outfits toys with 3G, GPS, and accelerometer capabilities. The Toybots demo product, dubbed “Woozee”, is a stuffed bear that stores messages, plays back audio books, provides fun facts whenever the Woozee’s owner switches locations, and allows friends and family to deliver virtual gifts. As the Toybots Web site ponders, “Imagine a physical toy you can tickle online and it giggles in the real world. Imagine a grandmother in Iowa recording a family story the toy can tell her grandchild in Florida.” Or imagine a stranger hacking into the Toybots network and harassing your kid.
SGN has no plans to manufacture its own Woozee-like toy–the company just wants to shill the platform. So far, Toybots has attracted some serious interest. Everyone on stage at Techcrunch liked the idea, and SGN is announcing a deal with a major telecom company some time in the next week that will let toymakers (think Mattel, Hasbro, etc.) create pre-paid services for their Internet-connected toys. And as one of the SGN representatives noted, this kind of technology is the holy grail for toymakers. That may be so, and the Toybots platform could easily take off, but as the TechCrunch panelists observed, this interactive platform could be just as well suited to porn.
Update: Shervin Pishevar, CEO of SGN, has slightly alleviated my
fears by explaining that parents have to approve who can send content.
“No one can just randomly send messages to a toy,” he told me. At any
rate, we’ll see what happens with Toybots soon. SGN hopes to have the
first Toybots-equipped products ready for Christmas 2010.