Parents, Virtual Assistants for Your Baby Are Coming (and Here's What They Can Do)

Welcome to 2017.
ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Jan 2017
Red smart speaker Aristotle
Photo: Mattel

Babies demand constant attention and a high level of maintenance. And when their round-the-clock needs seem to change every few weeks, caretaking can feel like a job for professionals. Good news, then: An intuitive, attentive personal assistant just for baby is in the works—and it’s the latest application of artificial intelligence.

Created by Mattel’s Nabi division, it functions just like the Amazon Echo, but this smart speaker is powered by Qualcomm and Microsoft. And despite catering to a crowd that’s still in diapers, its Greek-philosopher-inspired name is more complicated than Amazon’s Alexa: Aristotle.

So what can this thing do? Thanks to a small voice-controlled tower, the list is pretty long:

  • Respond to verbal commands
  • Answer questions using Microsoft Bing
  • Play lullabies
  • Read stories
  • Play white noise
  • Turn on a night light
  • Change colors
  • Order baby supplies
  • Play games and administer quizzes

What makes this particularly helpful for new parents—and differentiates it from the Echo—is the monitor. Using an HD camera, Aristotle collects data on naptime and diaper changes so you can track both via a smartphone app. Time to order new diapers? Mattel partnered with Babies “R” Us and Target, among other retailers, to make ordering baby supplies as fast as possible.

“Our focus was: How do we create a technology platform that evolves and grows with your child?” Robb Fujioka, Mattel’s chief products officer, tells Bloomberg Businessweek. Once baby hits toddlerhood, Aristotle can start administering guessing games or foreign language lessons. And Mattel plans to sync it up with its toy brands down the road, playing, for instance, motor noises while kids play with Hot Wheels.

Skeptical? Mattel gets it. To protect against data breaches, Mattel built an encryption into the device. And to protect against your toddler jabbering away to a speaker all night, customizable parental controls exist too.

A concern that’s harder to protect against, however, is the unknown effect of immersing young children in such advanced technology. Will this virtual assistant foster a need for immediate gratification? Or will the ability to bark orders at artifical intelligence that can’t get upset make kids bossier? It’s all too new to say. But, to play it safe, Mattel plans to roll out some manner-teaching apps next.

Be on the lookout for Aristotle, which will retail for $300, this summer.

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