It’s a Barbie world indeed.
At Toy Fair 2015 this past weekend, Mattel revealed an Internet-connected version of the famous doll that will have “real conversations with kids” using PullString technology via San Francisco startup ToyTalk.
Barbie has talked before, but not like this. ToyTalk’s speech-recognition technology uses writers who will draft branching dialogue based on what children will potentially say to the blonde toy, and collect kids’ replies in the cloud, similar to what Google Now and Siri do. Writers will then mold the responses and adapt them over time to suit the conversation. So if a child mentions they like to dance or that they like ponies, Barbie could refer back to those facts in a future chat.
"The most requested thing that kids have wanted to do with Barbie, and Mattel's done unbelievable amounts of research over the course of decades, is to talk to Barbie," ToyTalk CEO Oren Jacob said in a statement to Fast Company. He is also Pixar's former CTO, who worked at the animation company, known for the Toy Story series which has featured Barbie, for 20 years. "That's the number one request over all demographics, over all geographies, of all time. For the first time we're doing that for real now."
The new Barbie, dubbed Hello Barbie, requires a Wi-Fi connection and is equipped with a microphone, a speaker and two multicolor LEDs embedded in the doll’s necklace. Rechargeable batteries in it legs can be connected to an external wall-mounted charger. The doll should be able to last for about an hour of play. To talk with Barbie, a child will use a hold-to-talk button located in the doll’s belt buckle. Mattel will likely provide other accessories with hold-to-talk functionality.
A prototype of Hello Barbie was at Toy Fair 2015 in New York this weekend, but her conversations were limited to questions about her new Internet-connected capabilities and her experience being at Toy Fair. The final version will be capable of playing games and telling stories as well as having personalized conversations, though initial chats will be about basic subjects like favorite colors and favorite things to do at school. Eventually, Hello Barbie could be able to discuss with children career paths that the doll has represented, like scientist, mathematician, artist and surfer.
Hello Barbie is expected to sell for around $74.99 when it releases this fall.