M+E Connections

Woobo’s Out to Bring AI to Kids

LAS VEGAS — Although the number of products and services that use artificial intelligence (AI) is growing significantly, all of the high-profile implementations of the technology so far — including the Amazon Echo — have been targeted mainly at adults. Cambridge, Mass.-based startup Woobo, however, is out to bring advanced AI to kids, it says.

“The goal” of its initial product — a smart companion for children, also called Woobo, that talks and listens to the user — is “to inspire imagination,” CEO and co-founder Feng Tan told the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

The company is targeting the product at kids 5-9 years old, and it’s expected to ship in October or November for the 2017 holiday season, it said. Pricing will be in the $139-$179 range, with a target of about $150, Tan said, adding it’s being designed for markets globally.

The company was started in late 2014 by Tan, CTO Digo Wang and industrial designer Shen Guo. Tan recently received a doctorate in robotics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he told us. Wang is pursuing a doctorate in AI at Carnegie Mellon University, while Guo recently graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design.

img_1616 Woobo obtained $800,00 from Chinese game company Kunlun about a year ago as part of a seed-funding round, Tan said at CES. To help promote the product and raise additional funding, Woobo is looking to start a crowdfunding campaign — “most likely” on Kickstarter — in April or May, he said, noting that the company already started promoting the device on Facebook.

The latter campaign already led to about 25,000 consumers signing up to buy one via email, he said.

Tan said it was the first time that Woobo exhibited at CES, where its booth was located at the Eureka Park Marketplace for startups. The company plans to also exhibit at Toy Fair in New York, Feb. 18-21, he added.

In addition to spurring kids’ imaginations, the toy was designed to teach them decision-making and responsibility, he went on to tell us.

The product falls within the increasingly popular category of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) toys. Like Amazon’s Alexa-based products, Woobo’s device features voice recognition.

Woobo is also cloud-connected and embedded with sensors and robotics that the company said “allows for animated reactions not only to words but also touch.” Parents will be able to use their mobile phones to send and receive short audio messages through Woobo for their kids to hear, and children will be able to respond back with a simple click on the product’s ear, the company said.

A companion app will help parents set up content to support daily routines such as morning alarms, the playing of bedtime songs, and for LED lights on Woobo’s ears to be turned on when the child is going to sleep, it said. Also included inside the device is an accelerometer.