WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Can AI help children learn better? Perhaps…
What is green, very small, sounds like Yoda and boasts almost endless wisdom? The answer is Elemental Path’s CogniToys small talking and listening dinosaur that taps into IBM Watsons powerful AI and Cognitive Computing smarts to help children learn – or that, at least, is the objective.
CogniToys are sort of a hybrid between Musio and an Amazon Echo, except with a major advantage a child can have a conversation, ask questions and interact with a powerful AI that on the one front is helping to cure cancer and predict the stock market and on the other is singing ad hoc nursery rhymes to a bunch of children. All in a days work I suppose.
“For privacy reasons, the toy doesn’t directly connect to Watson,” says JP Benini, co-founder of Elemental Path.
“It connects to our proprietary platform, which in turn connects to Watson. Our platform is where we keep the personality, all the stories, the jokes, all the educational exercises and personalised experiences. We use Watson as the logical left brain to our creative right brain.”
In order to make the toy work each CogniToy has to be connected to the web via WiFi with an iOS or Android app and there’s a button on each dinosaur’s belly that engages the microphone and Watson. Conversations, spelling and math quizzes, knock knock jokes and stories about the universe – that kind of thing. Parents can also customise each toy’s settings and set the childs’ interests within the app.
According to Benini and co-founder Donald Coolidge, Elemental Path’s platform curates data and tailors it for each child and the database of responses is meant to answer common questions – ”mommy questions,” as Benini and Coolidge put it in the 5 to 9 age range, such as “Why is the sky blue?” and “Why can’t I eat candy for dinner?”
The project was initially funded via a KickStarter back in 2015.
“The KickStarter campaign was a great way to inform and education the general public,” says Coolidge.
“It provided us with a tool to speak directly to our early adopters about how the toy should look, feel, and act.”
While the Gen One device, which sounds like a freaky Elmo, is just a toy this kind of in home interaction with a powerful AI engine like Watson certainly has use cases beyond children.
“The base technology is about giving connected devices a personality that responds and changes over time, but the really powerful piece of the puzzle is the conversational nature of the toy.”