Toys for little girls have come a long way. Instead of gangly, mobility-limited figurines with zero capabilities, young ladies can now opt for an awkward, less mobility-limited, learning, talking, facial expression recognizing robot friend to do their bidding. Its name is Little Sophia.
Mixing A.I. technology with traditional toy design, this robot doll is a miniature version of Hanson Robotics’ Sophia A.I. robot which is making waves with celebrities. But, unlike her big sister, Little Sophia has a more direct purpose: teaching the women of tomorrow to be kickass scientists, mathematicians, coders, and roboticists.
The 14-inch tall doll doesn’t have much in the way of fashion (or hair, for that matter), but she has more facial expressions than your average plastic 11.5″ tall chew toy. Using facial tracking and recognition, she talks with your little one and tells jokes, sings, plays games – all while teaching them STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), coding, and A.I. topics.
Little Sophia delivers a high-quality, entertaining and educational experience so young students are highly motivated to spend time learning with her. The interaction between Little Sophia and users focuses on storytelling and learning new things. She’s not just another robot toy built by a toy company, Little Sophia has been designed and built by the same renowned scientists, roboticists
andengineers who built Sophia the Robot.”
Along with this, she’s programmed to exude a curious, playful innocence with a range of human-like expressions that work together in a toy designed to engage in conversation rather than to simply respond to commands or remote control, although the Little Sophia app does allow you to do the latter.
Kids can program and control the Wi-Fi enabled robot via this iOS or Android companion app. The app links to Little Sophia Academy where coding, AR, and A.I. are taught with a programming interface that uses Google Blockly block editor to explore what is learned and start programming Little Sophia. The app also includes an AR Selfie mode that triggers Little Sophia to track the phone while different stickers are applied and the photoshoot ensues.
There is, of course, a lot that goes into the design and creation of Little Sophia and, we imagine, it had its own share of challenges in fitting similar smarts and facial expression into a package much smaller than the full-size mama Sophia. The Hanson Robotics site has a little more on the background and development of Sophia but their research page shows the range of topics they have and continue to research.
The team’s goal is to provide a “robot friend that makes STEM, coding and AI a fun and rewarding adventure for kids 8+ years old, especially girls.” Through this
Still, instead of simply a electronic play thing with programmatic playback, I can’t help but feel some foundational design and engineering potential is being lost here by leaving out aspects of modification and customization, modeling and 3D printing, or manufacturing and supply chain. As STEMy as this (or any toy) may be, it would be great to see all the great robots, breadboards, and model kits move beyond a plug-and-play, snap-together approach that inherently, albeit unintentionally, limit a child’s exploration and creativity to something more that captures a bit of the product creation in the first place. Little Sophia V2, perhaps.
Little Sophia is currently on Kickstarter, where the robot has already exceeded the $75,000 goal. One Little Sophia goes for $149 USD and you can ‘Buy One, Give One” for $199 USD with an estimated delivery date at the ‘end of 2019’. More information along with an app demo can be found on the Little Sophia Kickstarter page.