Mattel and Microsoft reveal Aristotle, a tabletop digital nanny for kids

But can the new Aristotle smart assistant really stop a determined six-year-old from talking about farts?

Let’s face it: The first digital assistants for the home—Amazon Echo and Google Home—often feel like simple Internet portals with thin veneers of humanity to make them feel more warm and fuzzy. But now Mattel is trying to go beyond that with Aristotle, a personality-driven hardware assistant designed just for kids.

Through a partnership with Microsoft (which will lend its Cortana digital assistance technology to the project), the $249 Aristotle straddles the line between a digital nanny for parents and a teaching companion for kids. Though it all might sound a bit hokey, the hardware’s pedigree is sound: Aristotle is the brainchild of of Mattel's nabi team, which use to be known as Fubu, the tablet company that Mattel bought in 2016.

Aristotle consists of two components: a webcam (think baby monitor) and a cylindrical speaker that chats back and forth with kids. Evoking the design of Google Home, the speaker also has colored LEDs embedded deep within. These lights can perform night light duties, as well as change colors in response to questions, or as parts of games. 

Aristotle uses three artificial intelligence engines: Mattel’s own, Microsoft Cognitive Services (and soon, Cortana), and a third developed by Silk Labs. There’s a lot going on under the hood: Not only is Aristotle designed to identify different children by their voices, but it can also instruct them, and interact with them, as they grow from a toddler to pre-teen.

Mattel Aristotle IDG / Mark Hachman

Aristotle can light up as a nightlight, or as part of a game.

I’ve found Fuhu’s tablets to be thoughtfully designed, with software and services tailored to the subtle shadings of child-rearing. It appears Mattel is sticking to this playbook, if my Aristotle demo at CES 2017 is an evidence. Case in point: Adults can program Aristotle to only respond if a child says “please” after the “Aristotle” trigger command. Aristotle also listens for crying, and will alert parents via a notification if it hears any.

Aristotle also features behaviors that the company describes as “do this when” protocols—Mattel’s own take on the If This Then That (IFTTT) platform. Crying, for example, can trigger Aristotle to play a lullaby or a recorded message from the parent. Conversely, a child’s crying can also trigger nothing at all, to let the kid settle down on his own. Parents will be able to configure these behaviors via the app. 

Mattel says that as a child matures, Aristotle will be to provide more complex interactions. For example, there’s language instruction. Lisa Lee, a senior manager for marketing and communications, said Aristotle can be programmed to respond only in Spanish during specific hours to help older children practice their language skills. Aristotle can also interact with and control Zigbee and Bluetooth devices (either natively, or via its own SDK), and, theoretically, restrict access to those devices until homework or chores are complete.

Executives said Aristotle has been built with COPPA compliance, ensuring a child’s privacy is maintained. To prevent DDoS attacks or a random hacker spying on the child as he or she is playing, there are no default passwords. Instead, the phone and Aristotle forget their own encrypted connection via Bluetooth.  All data is always encrypted, to and from devices and to the cloud.

Aristotle has her own voice (yes, it’s a she) and sounds remarkably like the actor Microsoft uses for Cortana, though perhaps a bit younger. She’ll answer questions about herself and (presumably) tell jokes as well.

In a demo inside Mattel’s suite at a Las Vegas hotel, Aristotle didn’t always recognize commands, though, and the Wi-Fi congestion typical of a crowded tech convention also prevented some aspects of the demo from working as expected.

It’s unclear how “deep” Aristotle will go to educate and entertain kids that may grow bored quickly. What will happen when a five-year-old asks it to tell a fart joke? Or what about when an 11-year-old asks Aristotle about sex—with her little brother in the room? Family life has a complexity all its own, and it’s going to be up to Aristotle to sort it out. 

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags CES 2017

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
Show Comments


James Cook University - Master of Data Science Online Course

Learn more >


Sansai 6-Outlet Power Board + 4-Port USB Charging Station

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?