Mattel introducedits first Barbie doll way back in 1959, and she’s found herself at the center of cultural controversy ever since. To her credit, she keeps adapting to the times.
Today sheis actually several Barbies, a gang of dolls more diverse and less infuriating in terms of body proportions. And she’s enjoyed an enviable career path, with stints asan astronaut, a sk8er,the president and vice president of the United States, and a rapper, among other things. Now, at age 58, Barbie is a hologram. And I don’t mean one of Jem’s backup singers.
Hello Barbie Hologram is a smallbox containing an animated projection of Barbie that responds to voice commands. It combines motion-capture animation with Amazon Echo-style voice interactions, and itarrives in stores later this year.
So how does it work? A screen in the top of the box projects an image of Barbie onto a translucent wedge, which reflects it so she appears to float in mid-air. The toy uses a 2-D projection of a 3-D animation, which limits what you see. You can’t view Barbie in three dimensions from the side, for example, and if you peer through the box from the back, you don’t see her at all.
The wake phrase Hello Barbie brings the tiny sprite to life. You can ask Barbie to change her appearance, switch outfits, set an alarm, act as a nightlight, or get down with her bad self while you bump Run the Jewels 3. Can you choreograph her dance routines? Of course. Can you add things to your calendar? Yup. If you ask Barbie the weather when its raining, do holographic cats and dogs fall from the sky? Yes.
That web-connected mic raises the same privacy concerns as theAmazon Echo. But Mattel insists that, unlike the Echo and Google Home, Barbie doesnt save recordings to its servers. And the holo-box uses 256-bit encryption to shuttle voice queries to the cloud in a system designed to meet Federal Trade Commissions requirements outlined in the Childrens Online Privacy Protection Rule. That meanslettingparents or guardians see all the data the system collects. Mattel expects official COPPA certification by the time the toy ships in late summer.
PullString developed the underlying multimedia chatbot tech. The same folks also built the voice-control features for the coolHello Barbie Dreamhouse. Hopefully, this holographic assistant wont experiencethe same problems. Connectivity issuesplagued the mini-mansion during the holidays, and the toy greeted many kids with a mysterious Error Code 18 message whenever they asked it to do something.
The only prototype of the Hello Barbie Hologram appearsin Mattel’s booth at the American International Toy Fair in New York, but it’s merelya representation of the toy’s size, holographic display, and animation. It doesn’t have voice-control features activated, so Mattel showeda big-screen canned demo of how holo-Barbie will respond to spoken commands.
A lot of work remains to be done before Hello Barbie Hologram is ready for her closeup. No word yet on the price, but Mattel says it’ll be less than $300.