How Stephen Fry is helping one Welsh entrepreneur launch a ‘Supertoy’ in time for Christmas

Ashley Conlan, Abergavenny, an inventor with his Supertoy talking teddy. / WalesOnline UK

Ashley Conlan, Abergavenny, an inventor with his Supertoy talking teddy. / WalesOnline UK

Ashley Conlan was given £5,000 by Fry after he emailed the actor, comedian and broadcaster to enquire if he would be the voice of the “Supertoy” teddy.

An entrepreneur from Wales hopes to produce the world’s first “natural talking” teddy bear by Christmas – after securing funding thanks to a tweet from Stephen Fry.

Ashley Conlan, 47, was given £5,000 by Fry earlier this week after he emailed the actor, comedian and broadcaster to enquire if he would be the voice of the “Supertoy” teddy.

Fry’s resultant tweet about the project to his six million-strong following on Twitter means Mr Conlan has since generated huge interest and the funding he was looking for on crowd-funding website Kickstarter.

Aberdare-born Mr Conlan, based in Abergavenny, told WalesOnline: “It has been crazy. I knew he liked gadgets and had a love for teddy bears.

“The original thought really was: ‘Who would be the perfect British voice for Teddy? And I couldn’t think of a better voice than Stephen Fry.

“I thought: I have got nothing to lose, I will shoot him an email saying have a look and will you kindly be the voice for Teddy?

“Out of the blue, the next thing I knew he had put £5,000 in, which is the maximum, and pledged his help for the creation of the voice for Supertoy.”

Before Fry’s tweet, Mr Conlan had raised £10,000 towards his £30,000 fundraising goal on American site Kickstarter, which provides a platform for creative projects to raise funds.

Just 24 hours after the tweet, pledges had exceeded £30,000, and now stand at more than £36,000.

It now means, that with 144 days to go until Christmas, Mr Conlan faces a race to get the talking teddy produced for his 615 backers on Kickstarter.

The “Supertoy” teddy uses artificial intelligence, a free smart phone app and a large in-built vocabulary to “converse” with children rather than using a fixed number of scripted responses.

It can read bedtime stories, play songs and answer questions by going online to find the answer and speaks through a mouth that is synced to its internal speaker. Meanwhile it can learn a person’s preferences and change its attitude accordingly.

The bear has a zipped compartment to hold the phone.

Mr Conlan, previously employed as one of a handful foreign engineers by Japan’s Hitachi and as a technology consultant for Sony, abandoned his career to start work on the “Supertoy” teddy full-time in January.

“I came up with the idea originally three years ago but the costs were prohibitive,” he said.

“It just dawned on me that what we are seeing in the cinema and in films, well, actually, you can do it.

“Okay, it’s not going to be all-singing, all-dancing and walking round and whatever but the communication side of it and the ability to talk back to you about anything, that’s the key point.

“Smart phones three years ago were still a novelty and very expensive. Today practically everyone has got a smart phone and, like everyone else, I’m into the next generation smart phones.

“The old one is gathering dust so what better use to put it to than in a toy?

Mr Conlan added he hoped the “Supertoy” teddy would “usher in” a new range of communicative and intelligent toys and “put Wales on the map for technology”.

He and “Supertoy” co-founder Karsten Flugge were previously behind Jeannie, a computer programme for a smart phone designed to simulate an intelligent conversation.

It has been downloaded more than three million times on the Android smart phone.

The Supertoy teddy will be priced at £39 without an outfit and £42 with one.

Costumes will also have accompanying artificial intelligence meaning that if the teddy is wearing a cowboy costume it would use cowboy phrases like “howdy partner”.

Mr Conlan say mass production of the toy may follow, depending on how he wants to distribute it.

But having committed to the project and gained Fry’s backing, Mr Conlan is confident there is a big future for the Supertoy teddy.

He added: “It was an extremely tough decision and great sacrifices had to be made. I haven’t earned anything for the last seven months.

“It was also really a thing that if you don’t do it now, you never will sort of thing.”

[Source: Simon Gaskell @ WalesOnline UK]

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/business/how-stephen-fry-helping-one-5460655

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