July 29, 2013 -- In 1985 a teddy bear stuffed with a cassette player, four AA batteries and a small speaker became all the rage. He was named Teddy Ruxpin and he read kids stories by speaking aloud through his built-in speaker.
Teddy Ruxpin isn't exactly making a comeback -- at least not by brand -- but if you were to imagine what the modern-day bear would look like it would resemble Supertoy Teddy, a new bear made by UK start-up Supertoy Robotics. The two male founders have replaced the cassette player that was once in the popular bear with a smartphone and an advanced app. Now instead of just reading books, the bear can hold a conversation and understand what you are saying. Think Teddy Ruxpin with Siri baked-in or Seth MacFarlane's "Ted" with less profanity and smarts.
"There are many characters and app developers who are trying to push Siri and the Google Now functions further by giving them personalities," co-founder of Supertoy Robotics Karsten Fluegge told ABC News. "For me it was obvious to have a physical talking character instead of one just in a phone."
The bear looks like a normal, cuddly teddy bear, but unzip the back and inside is a headphone jack that connects an iPhone or Android phone. There is also a microUSB port under his tail so you can charge up your phone. When the Supertoy Teddy app is launched on the phone, the bear will be able to listen through its mic and then respond via the built-in speakers. The audio signal also tells the bear to move its mouth to talk. Techcrunch first reported on the Supertoy Teddy earlier today.
According to Fluegge, the bear will be able to make small talk, answer all sorts of questions and read stories. And that's the secret sauce of this particular smartphone-compatible toy.
The creators previously worked on an app called Jeannie, which uses a number of sources (Google, Wikipedia, etc.) to deliver answers and then its own dialogue system to provide spoken answers to questions. The Supertoy Teddy app will leverage that technology, allowing kids to have simple conversations with the bear.
"It will help you with all the little things, like Siri -- you can tell you when to wake up, it can remind you to buy something," Fluegge explained "The conversation, though, might be more important. You can tell the bear to tell you a story or tell you a joke or help you with your homework, even though that one might be a bit hard for Teddy."
The bear will cost $59 and is up for sale now for early backers on Kickstarter.com. It will ship in early December, though it will cost an extra 20 Euros it outside of the UK. The company will also sell other outfits for the bear.
The Supertoy Teddy isn't the first toy to interact with a phone, though. Many toy makers make small toys that work with an iPhone or an iPad. Griffin's Woogie has a spot for the iPhone inside the soft stuffed animal. The app makes different faces depending on how you hold the stuffed toy. However, Fluegee says the Supertoy Teddy is different in a key way.
"We are the first toy which can really talk. It doesn't just read back stories, that's a big difference," he says.
With that, it surely promises to be much more advanced than 1985's hit toy, even if Fluegee has never heard of Teddy Ruxpin.
"I never played with Teddy Ruxpin, but that's a very small subset of its features. It can tell you a story but it has evolved many generations from that," he says. "This bear can have a conversation with you."