Toys aren’t what they used to be; now many of them incorporate cutting edge technologies. A few weeks ago we talked about Toymail, toys that let children wirelessly connect with their loved ones. Today we’ll be talking about ToyTalk, a technology similar to the voice assistant Siri (from Apple) that enables communication with young children.

ToyTalk was founded by former employees of Pixar, including their ex-director of technology, Oren Jacob, who is the startup’s CEO. At Pixar, he worked on films including the first two parts of Toy Story and Finding Nemo. ToyTalk’s technology works like Siri, interacting with the user — however it doesn’t search the web for answers, but responds using phrases created by a company team. Additionally, it records the children, with prior consent from the parents, in order to improve the conversations and the software.

Among the applications that integrate ToyTalk you’ll find Speakazoo, where the child can interact with 20 friendly animals.There is also Winston Show, a kind of talk show where you can chat with six different characters. The most advanced is SpeakaLegend, where children get to speak and play with the characters in order to win a prize: a unicorn!

According to The New York Times, the company’s engineers conducted private testing with children who heard jokes, songs, rhythms and questions in order to develop biographical stories for the characters with a narrative arc. The company also talked to parents about controlling the privacy and personal information collected from their children.

$30 million in funding

ToyTalk has raised $30 million (more than 27.6 million euros) in different investment rounds, which gives an idea of its significance. According to TechCrunch, all of this money will serve to improve the engineering team, to develop more applications and to partner with other companies to make more toys using their technology.

In fact, they have already made some major partnerships: in October 2014 they signed an agreement with the producer of Sesame Street to bring their technology to the products of this legendary program. A few weeks ago ToyTalk also announced a project with the toy company Mattel to develop a new Barbie doll, with a voice and the ability to talk with the child. The toy’s responses will evolve over time, as a team of ToyTalk writers listen to recorded conversations and make suggestions according to the conversations and the needs of the children.

ToyTalk is a sign that its notonly smart apps and toys that will be the stars of the next generation, but also the behind-the-scenes software that makes them intelligent.