It sounds like an oxymoron: smart wooden dolls. However, that's exactly what manufacturer Avakai has created. Though it looks like a simple wooden doll in the shape Russian nesting dolls, it is Bluetooth enabled to offer interactive response. With their stress on connectivity, transparency, sustainability, and adaptability, this company reflects the values we're seeing in today's electronic supply chain.
The dolls are the product of a partnership between Matas Petrikas, formerly of Soundcloud, and Justyna Zubrycka, an industrial designer with experience in wooden toys. Together, they formed the Berlin-based Vai Kai with a new vision for toys. The Avakai dolls are their first product.
The dolls are designed for children five to nine years old in a way that lets them use the connectivity of technology to interact with the physical world, freeing them from being tied to a screen, as so many children are today. Within the old-fashioned looking wooden bodies is technology that allows the dolls to pick up on signals from another doll, and react to a child's touch with a variety of sounds, musical notes, colored lights and "haptic feedback," in the form of vibrations.
All of that is designed to contribute to "emotive communication." Just as the development of IoT will utilize sensors for direct communication through devices, these dolls can communicate directly with each other. Each doll can sense the presence of another doll within 50 meters and react as it draws closer. For dolls separated by greater distances, an app allows connection.
The dolls connect children to each other, rather than connecting the child to the toy company. That's why, unlike Mattel's Hello Barbie, Avai dolls do not contain microphones, nor do they connect to the internet. "For us it's important to create experiences that connect children, not children and marketing systems," Petrikas said.
In seeking support for the dolls on Kickstarter, Vai Kai promised full disclosure complete transparency, "We will make sure that our supporters are informed about any of manufacturing-related changes we might encounter during the pre-production phase." Transparency and access to information is key to enabling people are to make informed choices about their suppliers.
As we've seen here, California already has a law demanding transparency on human trafficking or slavery is involved in the supply chain of businesses that operate in its jurisdiction, and there is a push for a similar law on the federal level. Transparency also extend to concerns for global resources and funding terrorist regimes, a challenge for conflict mineral reporting.
Sustainability is another major issue for today's electronic supply chain. As we saw here, environmental awareness has become a business imperative. In contrast to the plastic used for most toys today, the Avakai dolls are made of wood that is "grown in responsibly managed forests according to European eco-standards." Take a look at this video that demonstrates the craftsmanship behind the dolls:
Crafting 21st Century Toys—The Body from Vai Kai on Vimeo.
As described on the Kickstarter page, "Avakai is made to last, both because of the materials and timeless design but also because of evolving ways of use." While most technology-based toys are limited to specific functions, Avakai are designed to be open-ended with room for imagination and adaption.
It's also important for the founders to realize their vision in spite of their setback in failing to reach the goal set by the Kickstarter campaign. They still intend to bring the dolls to market in 2016. Instead of giving up on the preorders, they invited their supporters to set up pre-orders through their site. Like the toy design, a business plan, too, sometimes needs some flexibility to adapt to changing conditions.
Will their persistence pay off? What do you think?