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Alexa for Kids? Cognitoys Scout Robot Wants to Chat with Your Child

This alien robot is ready to be your child's chatty new best friend. Like an Alexa or Cortana for kids, the Cognitoys Scout will answer kids' voice-based questions, but it will also play games, tell stories or just chew the fat.

Designed for kids aged 5 and up, the robot uses the power of artificial intelligence to learn about your child so it can hold custom conversations. It even asks your child questions based on their interests.

Due out in time for the holidays for $149.99, Scout is 7 inches tall and looks like a tiny astronaut (or a member of Daft Punk), but if you ask him "Scout, where are you from," he explains that he's an alien who has come to visit Earth and learn about humans.

This backstory provides a great opportunity for children to teach Scout about their worlds. For example, if your child talks about trains or Legos a lot, the robot will ask them about those interests. 

As the robot learns more about your child, it will provide an even more personalized experience. The speech-recognition system is specially designed to interpret a child's speech. For example, if a child says "wed" instead of "red," the robot will know that it's a color.

The robot has a speaker and microphone, along with a series of flashing RGB lights on its visor and a giant round button on its stomach. A series of colorful lights also appear around the button. The robot has touch sensors as well, so it knows when a child is handling it, and a light sensor so it can tell whether a room is dark (which could signal that it's bedtime).

Scout doesn't have any moving parts, so you won't find it rolling around your house. Its key function is to talk. There is no display on the robot, and no way that a child can control it from a mobile device. Parents who worry about their kids having too much screen time will appreciate this toy. There will be a companion app for parents to use to set up Scout's Wi-Fi connection and to get detailed reports about how their kids are using the robot.

With your child's words going back and forth to the cloud, some parents might be concerned about privacy. However, Elemental Path, the company that makes the Cognitoys Scout, says that any data the robot collects for personalization is secure and protected by military-grade encryption.

I had a chance to spend a few minutes with an early Scout prototype at Elemental Path's CES hotel suite and was intrigued by the robot's potential. Right away, I learned that in order to talk to the robot, you must hold down the button on its belly. This may sound like an inconvenience, but it alleviates many parents' fears about having an always-listening device in their child's room.

Scout learns all of its users voices so it can tell one family member from another. In order to issue my first voice command, a member of the Elemental Path staff had to introduce me to the robot. For some reason, the robot called me Abraham rather than Avram, but it's important to remember that this was an early prototype.

When I held down the button and asked Scout to "tell me a joke," Scout's visor lit up to show that he was downloading a response from the cloud. Rather than just spitting out a one-liner, the robot asked me an interactive joke; I had to ask a question before I got the punchline. I then  asked Scout a factual question ("Who is the president?") and he gave me the correct answer.

I also played a Jeopardy-like trivia game in which Scout gave me facts and I had to provide answers in the form of a question. Elemental Path says that Scout will be able to play more complex games that use its touch sensors and LED lights. Perhaps the lights around the belly button will turn different colors in a sequence, and you'll have to repeat the pattern as you would in the classic Simon game.

The one thing that was most frustrating about the Scout prototype — and hopefully this will be fixed in the final version — is that it took a couple of seconds to download each response from the cloud. That type of noticeable delay could fill your child's conversation with lots of uneasy pauses.

However, for a young child, Scout's killer capability could just be its ability to listen. Five-year-olds love to talk about their interests — sometimes over and over again — so they should love having a companion who is more than wiling to talk about Paw Patrol for the tenth time of the day.