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Science fiction in the cradle: Will robots become our children’s new playmates?

Alilo Honey Bunny – © Alilo

Thanks to voice control and digitally networked technologies, the internet of things has long since arrived in children’s rooms. Digital nannies and Smart Nursery Tools are showing up around the cradle and crib. And more and more, babies are no longer cuddling with silent bunnies and dolls but robots disguised as stuffed animals. Find out more about the trends in smart toys.

Digital technology brings toys to life. Already a popular gift for older children – smart toys are now also conquering the world of babies and toddlers. But that doesn’t mean that stuffed animals and blocks are a thing of the past. On the contrary: Packed with electronics, they now sing lullabies or tell stories like Lunii’s Fabulous Storyteller. Other gadgets comfort babies or act as all-round entertainers in the crib – such as the toy rabbit Honey Bunny von Alilo or the Pull & Spin Discovery Robot from Bkids. When pressed, it blinks, sings and even changes its facial expression.

The Neptune Lights & Sea Bouncer™ baby bouncer from Baby Einstein equipped with motion and touch sensors grows with the child and even allows curious babies to conduct their own music and light show: Features ocean sounds, colourful lights and blinking fish. Other smart toys like Tonies Toniebox on the other hand have a quite simple appearance. The fabric-wrapped cube contains a cleverly hidden interactive audio story box designed to spark children’s imagination.

Neptune Lights & Sea Bouncer by Baby Einstein – © Baby Einstein/Kids II

From electronic toy to connected smart toy

What unites all of these different toys is the integrated sensor technology and software, which makes the interaction between child and toy possible. In principle, simple electronic toys work just like the teddy bear of yesteryear that made a growling sound when tilted. In contrast, connected smart toys use the full range of possibilities offered by digitalisation. They are equipped with artificial intelligence and network with digital platforms via the internet. In general, they work like Siri and other digital voice assistants and are able to react individually to each child. This opens up unimaginable possibilities: Children can operate their toy cars by voice command and also ask their toys questions. The responses are personalised and age appropriate.

Will such mini-robots now become children’s new friends? Hopefully not all of them. It is precisely because of their advantages – networking and artificial intelligence – that some of the black sheep among the smart toys also contain risks as the Stiftung Warentest (German consumer safety group) discovered in a test carried out in 2017: Strangers can talk with children through unsecured bluetooth interfaces. In addition, smart toys can be hacked or spy on kids. One such example is “My friend Cayla”: Like a surveillance device, the doll recorded everything around it and transmitted this data to the manufacturer, who then used it for advertising purposes and shared it with third parties. Even before the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect, which intensified the legal situation even further, this was a clear violation of privacy regulations.

Lunii’s Fabulous Storyteller – © Lunii

Absolutely essential and very reassuring for parents: The seal of approval for privacy

The Bundesnetzagentur (German Federal Network Agency) therefore removed Cayla from the market last year. And that is not an isolated incident: There are currently over 150 lawsuits for similar violations and more than 400 offers have already been cleared. In order to give parents and children in the digitally networked toy world the assurance that the teddy bear does not turn out to be a Trojan, TÜV Rheinland has just introduced two seals of approval: The “Protected Privacy IoT Product” evaluates toys and their data transmission and the “Protected Privacy IoT Service” certifies that the manufacturer handles data in a safe manner. Manufacturers and retailers who want to sell their products in Germany cannot avoid these seals.

The fact is that digital toys are a rapidly growing business: Market researchers at Juniper Research expect global sales of smart toys to triple to more than EUR 13 billion by 2023. And Germany is still the fifth largest market. Good opportunities for smart toy suppliers that have a privacy certificate.

 

Do you already carry smart toys? Do you use a seal of approval? And what do your customers look for? Share your experiences with us!

We look forward to hearing from you.

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