Not only the talking teddy bear from the comedy Ted became a friend to the protagonist played by Mark Wahlberg, it also helped the filmmakers gross $500 mio. The success came from fulfilling the dream of almost every child – bringing their favorite toy to life. Founders of the company Mishka.AI went even further: Russian developers created a plush teddy bear that can carry on a dialog with children, teach them numbers and colors, and even tell them a bedtime story. The company expects that the smart toy will be able to divert the growing kids from excessive use of tablets and watching TV. They seem to have hit the mark as this is exactly what 6 out of 10 parents are currently trying to do.
The idea of creating an intelligent toy for kids between 3 and 6 occurred to Mishka.AI CEO and co-founder Andrei Teslenko several years ago.
“We decided to make a plush friend for kids. The smartest devices are usually made for adults, while our teddy bear is pleasant for a kid to hug and talk to”, Teslenko says.
This is how plush smart bear Mishka was created. The toy charges via USB, with control buttons concealed in the paws. Mishka is noted by its cozy design, but more importantly, by presenting the activities that are important for a pre-school child. If a child under 4 is exposed to over 30 minutes of screen time per day, this can result in dependency as well as worse sleep and communication skills issues. With the intelligent bear near, such problems simply will not occur. The toy can take on a whole number of tasks that could be previously handled with screen devices only; Mishka can both entertain and educate a child.
Currently, the Mishka toy includes a series of fairy-tales and bedtime stories to keep children entertained instead of animated movies; parents can daily replenish the collection with four new stories by subscription, with the toy receiving the content via Wi-Fi. Mishka can interact with external objects – a bedtime story can be started with the help of a sticker with an NFC tag attached near a child’s bed (you have to touch it with the bear’s paw to start the playback).
The toy can also provide help with upbringing the child. It can wake the kid up (the alarm clock can be activated via the mobile app), or remind the child to get ready for a walk, or to brush teeth.
“Mishka always talks one language with children and can motivate them better and turn everything into the game”, Teslenko says.
The initial batch of smart toys arrived in Russia in December; the preorder price for one piece was RUR 5,000 ($75), with the first 100 orders made following several Facebook posts. The interest was so immense that a pilot batch contained 1,500 toys. Today, the company has two venture investors, with the TealTech Capital and Starta Capital funds having made their investments in the project (Mishka.AI took part in the program of accelerating the latter in the United States in the first half of 2018). The founders estimate the total volume of outside investments at $200,000. The developers see Mishka not as a toy but rather as a platform for supplying children’s content: Mishka.AI microchip can be implanted in any plush toy that will become intelligent and receive access to the project’s cloud library. The team plans to monetize the project using the access to the content.
“Today, Mishka is out product, but in fact, this is market case; we create a technology and a platform for the toy market and content owners”, Teslenko emphasizes.
A draft project was showcased in Russia in November 2018; the work is currently underway to present Mishka in the United States.
In the long term, the smart teddy bear can become a fully functional virtual assistant for a small child. Such devices for adults are among the hottest technology trends, with Google, Amazon, Xiaomi and Yandex bringing their own developments to the market. It is expected that the sales of virtual assistants and devices will grow faster than smartphone sales. According to the estimates by Just AI, a company specializing in artificial intelligence technologies, in 2017, the number of smart speakers used worldwide was 50 mio, while in 2021 it is expected to increase tenfold.