• Dr. Timothy Smith

AI Under the Christmas Tree

Pictured above: PLEOrb, a robot dinosaur powered by AI

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

When I was very young, I hoped and prayed and chiseled to get a pair of mechanical dinosaurs for Christmas. I had seen them in a toy store before Christmas, and they looked so cool. Motorized and remote-controlled Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Triceratops that could walk backward and forwards controlled by a handset connected to the dinosaur by a wire. A red light would emanate from their mouths while walking. I could hardly sleep thinking about them. I was not the only one excited. One Christmas Eve, my parents had their friends over to celebrate and help them wrap presents. I heard laughter. I did not know the time, but it felt late. I got out of bed to peek around the corner into the living room and saw my dad and his friend on the floor playing with the mechanical dinos. They could not resist these little robots either.

Kids will find amazing and far more technically advanced toys under the tree today, with artificial intelligence making the toys more dynamic, fun, and even educational. So, as you gear up for the holidays, I have put a little list together of technically advanced robotic toys from remote control dinosaurs to a genuinely next-generation dinosaur to a playful robot to run around the house and a companion bot for children.

Robotic dinosaurs today come with wireless remote controls. For example, STEAM Life offers several remote-controlled dinosaurs that walk and even roar, such as a Triceratops with light-up eyes. It retails for $24.00 and goes as low as $18.00 online with careful shopping. STEAM Life also sells a remote-controlled Tyrannosaurus Rex with a lighted mouth that walks and roars. It retails for $47.97. These toys are non-toxic and recommended for kids from three to ten years of age. These toys joy on their own or together for battling.

Robot toys also come with more complex technology to enable more interaction, and many companies offer kits that kids can use to build robots. The kits vary widely in price from hundreds of dollars to simple starter kits such as 4M’s Tin Can Edge Detector bot kit that retails for $10.95. With the 4M kit, kids take a recycled soda can and put together a bot that glides all over a table, but with the help of its sensors, it never falls off the edge. It makes for a fun starter kit to see if kids like building and running their own robots.

Another more advanced robot called Miko3 functions as a mobile companion for children. In a video launch of Miko, Sneh Vaswani, the co-founder and CEO of Miko3, claims that his AI-driven robot, " …is more than a product or leading-edge technology. It is an experience that will revolutionize childhood, broaden the horizons of modern parenting, and transform how we think about our relationship with AI." (youtube.com) Miko3 can move around a room freely. With its computer vision, hearing, and voice, it learns a child’s name, can have a conversation on many topics, and even detects emotional states and responds accordingly. Miko3 initiates games, puzzles, and even dance parties.

Additionally, it has an app for parents that summarizes how Miko3 interacts with their child, such as how the child does with games and learning new things. According to Miko, all this data remains strictly private and under the parents' control. Coming in at $199.00, Miko3 is not cheap, but its cute face and endearing antics make it quite interesting and fun.

The motorized dinosaurs of my childhood bear almost no resemblance to some of the robotic dinosaurs of today except that they still look like dinosaurs. Innovo Labs, based in Nevada and Hong Kong, offers an AI robot dinosaur called PLEOrb. (pleoworld.com) PLEOrb does not simply walk around; rather, it behaves like a living animal. It comes as a newborn and must be nurtured and trained. With sophisticated artificial intelligence and the ability to see, hear, and feel, PLEOrb acts like an animal. It gets hungry, tired, happy, bored, and even sick. When it arrives, PLEOrb literally awakens for the first time as an infant that needs care and training. It cannot even walk at this point. It will subsequently grow through a toddler stage when it learns to walk with its owner's help, a teenager phase when it learns its name and other skills. Finally, it matures into an adult that continues to learn, play games, respond to voice and touch, and still needs care and feeding. PLEOrb has a hefty $518.00 price tag, but it incorporates some remarkable technology in a cute and engaging toy.

Moxie is another companion robot for children designed to provide friendship and connection. In a promotional video for Moxie, the scene opens with the parents introducing Moxie to their son, who is sitting alone in his messy room listlessly swiping the screen of some tablet. (youtube.com) The Mom says, “Riley, hi, there’s someone who wants to meet you.” She puts a blue robot down on the table in front of the boy. It wakes up, lifting its head, and offering its hand, saying, “Hi, I’m Moxie. What’s your name?” Moxie will engage children and get to know them, prompting them to do missions such as games or to draw or tell stories. Embodied, Inc., the company that makes Moxie, claims Moxie is “A next-generation AI robot that complements traditional therapy and supports social-emotional development in kids through play. Ideal for children ages 5 through 10.” They say Moxie encourages social interactions through missions and tasks, helps learn emotion regulation techniques to help address anxiety in kids, improve critical thinking, and enhance creativity and imaginative play. (embodied.com). Moxie lists for $799.00 or rented for $149.00/month.

When I was young, the robotic dinosaurs that I dreamt about could walk back and forth controlled via a wire and handset. Likewise, today's robots for children use wireless remote control and, in some cases, artificial intelligence to make them interactive and personalized to individual kids. From PLEOrb, the robotic dinosaur, to the humanoid robots such as Miko3 or Moxie, these next-generation robots offer companionship as the main selling point. According to a Pew Research Center study, the number of families having only one child in the United States has doubled to 22% from 11% in 1976. So the practical nature of a companion robot may make more sense than ever as fewer children grow up with a sibling to interact with.

The Holiday Season involves toys, and the new advances in technology now provide a range of robotic toys from the approachable to the costly but remarkably intelligent robots just for kids. Many of the toys listed have very high price tags that make them impractical for most families. They were described here as a glimpse into the future of toy making. As technology advances, the price tends to fall, and artificial intelligence will find its way into more toys for young and old kids.

Dr. Smith’s career in scientific and information research spans the areas of bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, toxicology, and chemistry. He has published a number of peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has worked over the past seventeen years developing advanced analytics, machine learning, and knowledge management tools to enable research and support high level decision making. Tim completed his Ph.D. in Toxicology at Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Washington.

You can buy his book on Amazon in paperback and in kindle format here.