It’s a rite of passage for parents in the 21st century — desperately trying to make sure the kids don’t ask something inappropriate to all too informative voice assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant. The folks behind Woobo think they’ve found a way to sate that childhood curiosity in a safer and more cuddly way, and considering how adorable this little guy is, it’s going to be hard to resist!
Woobo is a robotic toy, but don’t let that give you the wrong impression — it’s super soft and cuddly. But, you can tell Woobo is all about tech, too — its eyes appear on a touch display that can become a menu for kids to explore more of Woobo’s features. Kids will use voice to interact with Woobo more than touch, though, with Woobo’s creators saying that not only does Woobo have voice recognition tech, it’s particularly good at understanding that most difficult of English dialects — under-sevenese.
Frazzled parents (see: Woobo’s expression above) who need something that can keep kids entertained at home or in the car might find a friend in Woobo, too. Woobo has enough features to make it fun for a long time — it’s meant to be a long-term friend to kids, not toy box fodder after three months!
Woobo has a lot of different ways to keep kids entertained. Kids can ask Woobo questions — anything from conversation starters to fun facts — and Woobo will respond with answers. Woobo can also sing songs, tell stories, and play games with kids! That all requires an internet connection, but Woobo can only do what its creators have programmed it to do — kids can’t use Woobo to start browsing the web. Woobo also knows better than to answer those more curious questions, using filters to keep things kid-friendly.
But, like we said, Woobo is a friend to parents, too. Parents will be able to download Woobo’s less cuddly companion — a smartphone app that lets them keep tabs on what kids are doing with Woobo. From the app, parents can also schedule chores and daily things like brushing teeth and bedtime. After all, kids are always going to have a hard time listening to you — there’s always hope that if a cute, cuddly creature tells them to get to brushing, they might actually do it! Depending on age, Woobo can even guide kids through the process of brushing to make sure they’re not missing any spots.
Woobo is far from the first smart kids toy, and that means its creators are sure to have some idea of the obstacles ahead. We remember when Hello Barbie was introduced at Toy Fair 2015 — she was swiftly criticized when it was discovered that Mattel would be storing data, including audio from kids’ questions, on cloud servers. Data has been a source of conflict for these toys ever since.
It’s really important to know exactly what these toys are doing and why. Data is usually stored so that the creators can make the toy personalized over time — these voice activated toys are able to learn kids’ likes and dislikes, becoming more like an actual friend. The other side of that coin is the fear that toy companies will also sell that data on to marketers — while the data collected is anonymous, it’s still an unsettling idea.
The folks behind Woobo seem to be taking this problem seriously. For starters, it’s not always listening — Woobo will only respond once his ear has been pressed. If Woobo is listening, the company does record data, including audio, on servers. But, the company says they have people onboard to monitor their data and delete anything that isn’t necessary.
Woobo was originally a Kickstarter darling, blowing past its funding goal shortly after the project launched. They’ve now got an Indiegogo campaign up for new orders, and if all goes well, you should still be able to order one that will arrive in time for Christmas. The company is targeting December 20 as the ship date, although that’s really cutting it close. Considering how often we say shipping delays for crowdfunded projects, we’d be ready for the possibility that Woobo won’t quite make it in time. Fingers crossed!
But, if you want to take a shot, it might be worth it! Woobo is super cute, and the idea of an Alexa-like toy that can keep kids occupied on the road is pretty amazing, especially for parents who are worried about just handing over the iPad and hoping the kids don’t get into too much trouble.
Woobo can be secured with a $139 contribution to the Indiegogo campaign and can be ordered in strawberry sundae, lavender lollipop, and minty marshmallow colors.