Google X patents Internet of Things toys for kids.

Google Patents Eerie, Internet-Connected Stuffed Animals for Kids

Google Patents Eerie, Internet-Connected Stuffed Animals for Kids

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
May 26 2015 2:59 PM

Google Patents Eerie, Internet-Connected Stuffed Animals for Kids

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Sure, totally gonna put one of these in a nursery.

Image from USPTO

Between targeted advertising and tailored search results, you may feel like Google knows too much about you already. This new patent isn’t going to help. Filed in 2012 and published last week, “interactive electronics that support social cues” are devices that react to the voice commands and movements of children. They’re essentially toys—but super-creepy ones.

The idea behind the patent is to coordinate Internet of Things devices like smart thermostats and TVs using an approachable figurine. “An anthropomorphic device, perhaps in the form factor of a doll or toy, may be configured to control one or more media devices,” the patent explains. When triggered by a voice command or movement, “the anthropomorphic device may aim its gaze at the source of the social cue.”

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The teddy bear at the center of your universe.

Image from USPTO

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This type of product isn’t unprecedented. There are already personal assistants that are always on, like the Amazon Echo, and interactive social devices for the home, like Jibo the family robot. But Google sure knows how to write a weird patent:

The anthropomorphic device may be a doll or toy that resembles a human, an animal, a mythical creature, or an inanimate object. The anthropomorphic device may have a head (or a body part resembling a head) with objects representing eyes, ears, and a mouth. ...  By making ‘eye contact’ with the user, the user is presented with a familiar form of social interaction in which two parties look at each other while communicating.

What is a body part resembling a head?

Companies patent lots of things, so Google’s experimental lab Google X probably isn’t transitioning to full-time smart-toy development. A Google spokesperson told BBC News that, “We file patent applications on a variety of ideas that our employees come up with. ... Some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don’t.”

The FTC has been proposing standards for Internet of Things devices, but on the whole they’re still a long way from being secure. And in terms of privacy, who knows how much a Google rabbit could figure out about you if it became your kid’s favorite toy.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.