Amazon’s Best Interactive Plushie in 2020
In recent years plush has become very intelligent. Yes, artificial intelligence has entered the plush toy market.
The top selling interactive plush on Amazon AU can be found at the end of this article. But first let me tell you a bit about the development of this technology.
Modern smart toys started in history with the eighteenth and nineteenth century cuckoo clocks, music boxes of the nineteenth century, and Disney audio-animatronics of the twentieth.
Perhaps the biggest early contribution is from novelty and toy makers from the 1800s who made automatons such as Vaucanson’s mechanical duck, von Kempelen’s The Turk, and the Silver Swan. All pre-twentieth-century precursors had in common that they had mechanical parts. By the second half of the 1900s toys featuring built-in media players became common.
For example, Mattel introduced a variety of dolls in the 1960s and 1970s that used a pull string activated talking device to make the dolls “talk” such as the talking Crissy doll and Chatty Cathy.
The first talking plush was a teddy bear called Teddy Ruxpin, the iconic talking bear from the late ’80s. He has made a come back and he’s flaunting some timely upgrades. The toy bear made a splash when he launched in 1985. He was a first-of-its-kind animatronic toy with motorized eyes and mouth, and he told stories through a cassette player (remember those?) in his back.
It was created by Ken Forsse with later assistance by Larry Larsen and John Davies and the first version of the toy was designed by the firm RKS Design. Later versions used a digital cartridge in place of a cassette. At the peak of its popularity, Teddy Ruxpin became the best-selling toy of 1985 and 1986, and the 2006 version was awarded the 2006 Animated Interactive Plush Toy of the Year award by Creative Child Magazine. A cartoon based on the characters debuted in 1986.
The Jim Henson Company
In 2018, it was announced that Alchemy and The Jim Henson Company would make a new Teddy Ruxpin TV series. The series would be animated in a digital puppetry form and would be aimed at preschoolers.
In 2019, it was announced that The Jim Henson Company would be distributing the series under the Henson Independent Properties banner.
However, it remained until the introduction of the microprocessor in the mid-1970s for smart toys to come into their own.
Texas Instrument’s Speak & Spell which came on the market in the late 1970s was one of the first full-featured smart toys. The device is similar to a very limited laptop with LED read-out. It is used for spelling games and guessing a “mystery code”. It speaks and makes a variety of sound effects.
Ralph H. Baer, creator of popular electronic toys such as Simon and Maniac, developed an interest in improving the technology used in talking toys. The collection of Baer’s papers in the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play at The Strong includes a series of documents that recount the development process of his Smarty Bear, licensed by Lewis Galoob Toys in 1986.
Smarty Bear differentiated itself from other talking toys on the market by interacting directly with children and answering their questions. Smarty Bear also laughed when tickled, protested when turned upside-down, and fell asleep when ignored. Baer’s materials on the creation of Smarty Bear include schematics, notes, photographs, correspondence, patents, and scripts for the phrases the toy exclaimed.
Not to be outdone by other talking bears, Smarty Bear featured available add-ons. The Smarty Box, an interactive video system, played VHS cassettes starring Smarty’s nephew Argyle. One of the first toys to incorporate specially encoded video cassettes, Smarty Bear would interact with the cartoons, helping to solve dilemmas while taking the viewer on educational adventures.
What best distinguishes a smart toy is the way the on-board intelligence is holistically integrated into the play experience in order to create simulated human-like intelligence or its facsimile.
A smart toy is a toy that has a degree of artificial intelligence and can adjust the way it interacts with the user, react to external stimuli and behave according to pre-programmed patterns. The level of intelligence these toys have varies widely, with some able to use voice recognition, touch sensors and smartphone apps to interact with users.
One of the earliest attempts at a toy with ambitions to include the principles of AI was the Furby, which became the first economically successful domestic robot to be sold to consumers upon its launch in 1998.
Children receiving one of the in-demand toys would open the box to find that the Furby spoke only in ‘Furbish’, a synthetic language made up of short phrases and sounds.
Intended to replicate the process of learning a language, the Furby would ‘learn’ more English phrases over time, with the ability to learn certain words and phrases more quickly in response to positive reinforcement from the child.
Petting the Furby while it said a particular phrase would encourage it to repeat it again in the future.
There’s a huge variety of smart toys and child-friendly AI gadgets on the market at the moment, including the cutesy Anki Cosmo robot, the trainable robo-pup Aibo, and even Amazon’s Echo Dot kids’ edition. Frankly, there’s never been a better time to delve into the world of connected toys.
Part of their popularity (aside from the whole “wow, look how cool this is” aspect) is the fact that playing with them can actually be really beneficial to children’s development, particularly in terms of introducing them to electronic devices in an increasingly connected environment.
Learning and AI Plush
Aside from preparing children for a high tech future by allowing them to code and program, smart toys can also help them to learn about social interaction, which is particularly useful to children on the autism spectrum who may find it challenging to interact with strangers. There has been many studies done on the benefits interactive toys and development of communication skills. Toys assisted with learning to communicate effectively in the real world by imaginative play. Acting out scenarios with a toy can assists the child gain confidence with social skills and language.
If you are happy with the security of the AI toys you’re buying for your children, their prevalence does throw up some ethical questions. A large part of a child’s development lies in their ability to engage in creative play, where their imagination is the most important plaything they own.
This is why many child development experts prefer ‘open-ended’ toys to rigidly programmed AI toys, like building blocks and dolls. In the hands of a child, even a cardboard box can be a fairy castle, a pirate ship or a rocket to the moon.
It’s even possible that AI toys, specifically humanoid robots, can have an effect on the way children behave, particularly in terms of compliance and following instructions. With AI toys continuing to soar in popularity, it’s clear that lawmakers, manufacturers, and consumers need to work together to ensure that children can reap the benefits from an early introduction to technology while staying safe.