It's a baby monitor. It's a voice-activated smart assistant. It answers your questions, and maybe your kids' questions, too. It orders more diapers when you run out and soothes babies back to sleep automatically. It plays with your kids. It could be the most exciting thing toymaker Mattel has ever produced.
It's called the Aristotle, and it's not just an Amazon Echo clone: the device is a fully functioning Amazon Alexa assistant that can answer all the same adult questions and has all the same smart-home capabilities -- but if you say "Aristotle" instead of "Alexa," it will summon a different voice assistant designed to interact with your kids.
The voice-activated speaker also comes with a wireless camera that streams 256-bit encrypted video to your phone, an array of colorful LEDs and special software, some of which -- as a new parent myself -- sounds too good to be true.
Here are some of the additional things that Mattel claims the Aristotle's software does:
Interestingly, Mattel says that Microsoft's (not Amazon's) cloud services are doing a lot of the heavy lifting -- it will use Bing search to answer parenting questions and both Microsoft Cognitive Services and "Cortana Intelligence" to do AI-like things. On the smart-home side, Mattel says it's compatible with Wink, Wemo, Smart Things, Philips Hue, ZigBee and IFTTT among others.
In my brief time watching Aristotle work, I was impressed by some of the creative integrations its designers thought up. For instance, if a parent left some chores for a child to finish before TV time, Aristotle will ask the child to finish up before turning on the television. If the kiddo is wearing one of Mattel's location-tracking wristbands, Aristotle will wait for the child to actually go do the chore before it will comply with requests.
The most interesting part about Aristotle isn't just the list of features; it's the cohesiveness of the device. It substitutes for multiple devices in a baby nursery -- like a white-noise emitter, monitor and night-light. It also offers goodies for kids once they move to the next stage of development, like stories, games and educational lessons. These features, along with the solid smart-home control, make it a device that could conceivably "grow up" alongside your child.
Now, whether a child growing up alongside a digital assistant is a good or bad thing is a separate question -- and one Aristotle's developers were reticent about. Aristotle isn't supposed to parent, Senior Manager of Marketing and Communication Lisa Lee explained, but rather to offer tools to make parents' jobs easier. That's why Mattel won't be following up with research on the effects on children of interacting with digital assistants from a young age. Voice assistants are entering households anyway, and Lee says they want to offer something that more critically thinks about engaging the children in those homes.
The device should ship in June 2017 for about $300 (this roughly converts to £245 or AU$415). That's not cheap, but it could be a small price to pay for a device that offers so many different services.
And if you don't have kids, keep in mind that Lenovo also just introduced a $129 Amazon Echo derivative (£105 or AU$179, converted) that could have a much better speaker.
Update, January 4 at 11:09 a.m. PT: Mattel claims the Aristotle can do even more things than we originally heard. We've added the full list above.