Future tech

‘Smart’ rubber duck quacks, reads and plays music - will bath time ever be the same?

Edwin, the world’s first ‘smart duck’, can sing a lullaby and tell a story, among other things, but the toy relies a lot on smartphone apps for the fun it delivers - and it’s set you back US$100

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 June, 2016, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 June, 2016, 12:37pm

Billed as the world’s first “smart duck”, Edwin the Duck is cute, yellow and waterproof, just like the good old rubber duck floating in many bathtubs for generations. But Edwin also reads and plays music. He quacks, rather than squeaks like the traditional duck, thanks to internal electronics. Motion sensors also turn the US$100 Edwin into a controller for games.

Yet Edwin feels like a work in progress, a collection of miscellaneous functions that are mildly duck-related, without the features that would truly make him smart.

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For instance, he doesn’t converse with kids using computer-generated responses, as other smart toys do. And most of his wizardry merely directs a child’s attention right back to screens.

Perhaps Edwin would have worked better without trying to be all that smart. Not every toy needs to be a smart toy. A good personality might be all that a digital rubber duck needs.

Edwin, made by American company Pi Lab, does have a personality – and more.

You can have Edwin tell a story or play a song by launching a free iPhone or Android app. The fun part comes through Edwin’s built-in motion sensors. As your kid shakes, turns or moves Edwin up and down, an animated Edwin on the app swims or flies, or selects a response in a game or quiz. Tap on Edwin’s wing, and a light in his head turns on. Edwin becomes a night light – but one that can also tell a child a bedtime story or play a lullaby (from a limited selection).

Of course, the reading capability raises the question of whether parents ought to be reading to their kids directly instead. And should parents give kids yet another screen to stare at for these ducky games and quizzes?

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Stevanne Auerbach, author of Dr. Toy’s Smart Play Smart Toys: How to Select and Use the Best Toys & Games, says children need to run around, do finger-painting, read old-fashioned books and interact with nature.

“I don’t think you want to throw the rubber duck out and replace it with Edwin,” Auerbach says.

But she isn’t dismissing Edwin entirely and says there could be room for both. She also says Edwin might be a hit with adults as a night light that can play music.

For now, Edwin ducks concerns about privacy and security , mostly because he doesn’t have internet-enabled conversation capabilities, the way rival smart toys such as Mattel’s Hello Barbie have.