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Elementary My Dear Watson: IBM’s Watson Supercomputer Used For Children’s Toys

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Educational toy start-up Elemental Path is using the world’s most famous supercomputer for a toy designed for children.

The website VentureBeat reports that CogniToys, Elemental Path’s invention, looks like a typical children’s toy. A miniature and adorable Tyrannosaurus Rex that comes in green and yellow, among other colors, CogniToys is actually quite extraordinary in that it uses IBM’s artificially intelligent supercomputer, Watson, to hold conversations with children.

Elemental Path launched the toy with a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign this February. Initially requesting a goal of $50,000, the campaign has already raised more than $180,000 as of February 25th, and will continue to collect donations until March 18th. Don Coolidge and J.P. Benini, the founders of Elemental Path, are ecstatic about the support.

“We hit our stretch goals and now we need new stretch goals,” Benini said.

The young entrepreneurs began their venture by entering in the IBM Watson Mobile Developer’s Challenge last year. The competition pitted hundreds of programmers and app developers to create pitches for a mobile app that uses Watson’s capabilities, particularly its speech recognition and artificial intelligence features. Coolidge and Benini won the competition and were rewarded with access to Watson.

“I just wanted to play with Watson,” Benini said. “Watson was a toy to me.”

Watson is perhaps most famous for being the first artificially intelligent computer to compete in the popular trivia show Jeopardy!. In 2011, Watson squared off against Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, managing to win first place after a series of matches. Its prize was $1 million, all of which IBM donated to charity. Watson also went up against members of Congress in an untelevised event.

Watson’s 200 million or so pages of data were transferred using a secure file transfer protocol, or SFTP. SFTP uses a private and secured data stream to transfer digital data.

CogniToys accesses Watson via a cloud, which it connects to using standard Wi-Fi Internet access. Once connected, the toy has access to the 200 million “pages” of structured and non-structured data stored by Watson. The child with the toy dinosaur presses a button in its belly, putting the toy in listening mode. The child can then ask it thousands of questions as well as give it commands, such as instructing it to tell him or her a bedtime story. The toy responds to the child with age-appropriate answers in a “grumbly-Cookie-Monstery-Muppety voice,” as Coolidge described it.

Perhaps most impressively of all, the toy can, over time, develop a “personality.” That is, the toy can learn the child’s name and other things like favorite colors, favorite cartoons, and other interests. It can provide answers tailored on the child’s personality and history, and also has educational applications. CogniToys can help children with spelling, pronunciation, math, science, reading, and more.

“Older kids ask it more practical questions about homework,” Coolidge said. “The younger kids go for … interactive games, where it’s more about the play and less about the education. But the education is still there.”

“The magic for us is we can work in the dinosaur’s personality with fun answers,” Benini added.

The Daily Mail reports that early “adopters” can purchase the toy from Kickstarter from $99. The toys are expected to ship out starting on November 1st.