Animatronics have a funny history in America. They can be clunky (see: Abraham Lincoln’s garish robotic doppelganger at Disneyland, circa 1965). They can be disturbing (see: The Rock-afire Explosion at Showbiz Pizza Place). You could even own your own animatronic hillbilly jug band, because that seems fine. Then there are talking toys that might as well come under the category “Kill it with fire!” (see: evil Teddy Ruxpin).
Now a new robotics company is taking another shot at the talking toy companion, but with a unique twist. Texas-based Wetwire Robotics is merging animatronic technology with smart speakers and digital assistants to manufacture Lexa Bear, a talking teddy bear designed to sync with Amazon’s Alexa devices or any Bluetooth-enabled digital assistant. For the first time, parents can give their children an animatronic companion that can speak with any audio it’s connected to.
This built-in synchronicity with multiple devices means that Lexa Bear can perform all of the skills that its paired smart device can, such as telling jokes, reading stories, playing games, teaching, solving problems and singing. Think hard about the singing part; how much Taylor Swift-belting robotic animals can you handle in your life?
“We realized early on that Lexa Bear had to be able to react not only to any audio it was connected to but it had to focus its mouth response to the human voice,” said Travis Redding, lead developer and President of Wetwire Robotics. “It was really challenging to get Lexa to be able to sing mostly the vocals and not react to the music it was hearing. Now Lexa Bear has a speaking voice and can sing music, too.
Wetwire Robotics hopes to fund its prototype companions through a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $35,000. During the campaign, contributors can nab one a Lexa Bear for $79, while the commercial version is expected to retail for $149.
Lexa presents some advantages to parents in that the teddy bear is as secure as the device it is connected to, such as a smartphone or Amazon account. Lexa Bear cannot be hacked because its internal electronic components don’t collect or store information.
Because the animatronic bear isn’t hard-coded with pre-programmed sounds and activities, Lexa Bear can also continue to evolve as technology changes. Not only can the bear respond in real time, it can also add abilities, apps, and features as they develop over time.
“It was really exciting when we showed the first talking bears speaking for Alexa to kids and even adults,” CEO VIctor Wong said. “We saw how much more engaged and alive the technology can be.”