professions.) When your young one mentions that she likes
animals, Barbie’s career advice is on point: “Do you want
to take care of them like a veterinarian or study them like
a zoologist?” No word on whether “electrical engineer” is
one of the career recommendations though. Perhaps the
IEEE could look into it.
Cloud-Centric Processing: Cogni Toys’ Dino.
Of course, Mattel isn’t the only toy company betting heavily
on the Io T: a slew of traditional suppliers and startups are
also in the game with a combination of strategies.
Some approaches rely more heavily on cloud-based
servers and less on local processing in the toy itself.
Cogni Toys’ Dino includes a Wi-Fi-enabled link to IBM’s
Watson cloud-based AI platform, so it doesn’t rely on
preprogrammed responses. The toy is reminiscent of
TV’s Barney but ditches purple in favor of pink, blue,
and green. With Watson’s help, Dino tells jokes, plays
games, and can search the Web for answers to children’s
questions. The leaders of tomorrow must be highly literate
and numerate, so Dino includes new vocabulary words and
math questions in its games and stories.
Wireless Connectivity Options
Wireless connectivity is a key element in any Io T
system, and toys are no exception.
For battery-powered applications, many industrial and
medical Io T devices use a low-rate protocol, such as IEEE
802.15.4, which forms the basis for ZigBee and Thread.
Although some toys use Bluetooth, the vast majority rely
on the IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi) specification because it is
ubiquitous in home-based wireless routers.
Another communication mechanism in the broader
Io T market is the mesh network, whereby edge nodes
communicate directly with each other in a peer-to-peer
scheme without a controlling gateway. As illustrated in
Figure 2, companies like Disney Research are developing
similar protocols for toy-to-toy communication that
extend the IEEE 802.11 Power Savings Mode (PSM) to
accommodate mesh use.
Security and Privacy in Connected Toys
Just like the rest of the Io T landscape, security is a
primary concern with connected toys—especially since
kids are involved.
Robust security requires hardening all elements of the
Io T chain, from edge node to cloud server. Toy Talk has
hooked up with HackerOne, a VC-backed company
headquartered in San Francisco that offers what they
claim is the first vulnerability coordination and bug bounty
platform. Through HackerOne, Toy Talk offers a monetary
reward for discovery of security-related issues in their
products. Qualifying categories include cross-site scripting,
SQP injection, and authentication flaws.
Privacy is another issue. Consumer advocates have
expressed concern that toys might be able to eavesdrop
on children and their families, especially since some
of the manufacturers also sell products and services to
intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Groups like the
Consumers Union and the Electronic Privacy Information
Center have filed complaints about other toys with the
FTC, alleging that they violate federal privacy laws.
Manufacturers are aware of the dangers. In common
with other suppliers, Toy Talk has a privacy page that
describes its policies regarding the collection of personal
information and how that information will be used.
Dino’s microphone is muted by default and becomes
active when the user presses a “Belly Button.” In
addition, the link to Watson is routed through platform
supplier Elemental Path’s gateway that customizes
responses to each child and has a database of answers
to common questions from likely owners, such as “why
can’t I eat candy for dinner?”
The Internet of Toys is on a tear: Juniper Research
forecasts that sales of smart-connected toys will reach
$8.4 billion by 2020. All of the big guys are investing
heavily, while the availability of low-cost Io T starter
kits, ready access to cognitive AI software, and crowd-funding dollars have led to a slew of startups. When the
dust settles, not all will have survived. Meanwhile, the
prospect of privacy and security litigation has the lawyers
circling lazily overhead. It should be an interesting couple
of years. ECN
Figure 2: Mickey meets multi-hop. Disney Research is extending
IEEE 802.11 to facilitate direct communication between toys
without needing a router. An outdoor game is one possible
application. (Source: Disney Research)