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 ($11 at Walmart) 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:
- Automatically recognizes when babies wake up, and soothes them to sleep with a lullaby, white noise, a favorite song or a night-light.
- Logs wet diapers and feedings via voice commands or a phone app.
- Automatically orders more diapers or formula from Target, Babies R Us and other participating retailers.
- Automatically looks for deals and coupons on consumable baby supplies.
- Actually recognizes and answers young kids' questions after a brief voice recognition training session
- Answers questions until your child falls asleep.
- Plays guessing games with kids based on animal noises (say the name of the animal) or shapes held up to the camera (say the name of the shape), then lights up with the correct answer.
- Reads aloud from a selection of dozens of children's books, accompanying them with sound and light effects that match the stories.
- Hosts sing-alongs and teaches ABCs and 1-2-3s.
- Recognizes specially designed kids' toys with embedded NFC chips, or with its camera, and provides sound effects when kids play with them (an upcoming Hot Wheels racetrack was one example).
- Optionally requires kids to say "Please" when they ask Aristotle for things, to help teach manners.
- Helps kids with homework.
- Gives foreign-language lessons. (Mattel says this is targeted at tweens, not younger children.)
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(£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.