From the horse’s mouth
Big Mouth Billy Bass – Compatible With Alexa (Product Page)
Amazon had just polished their Gadgets Toolkit which is an application programming interface for interlinking devices of various kinds with the Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform. This has opened up a path for doing things like interlinking novelties that can show off when you ask Alexa for them to do so.
The first of these is the latest take on the Big Mouth Billy Bass phenomenon of the late 90s and early 2000s.
This novelty is a toy fish that is mounted on a board and starts singing songs like “Don’t Worry Be Happy” or “Take Me To The River” at the touch of a button. This is with the fish’s face swinging around to face the audience and its mouth moving in sync to the lyrics. It brought about other singing-and-dancing novelties that performed to pre-recorded songs in a funny manner.
But this latest iteration of the Big Mouth Billy Bass fish interlinks with any Amazon Echo device via Bluetooth and acts as a speaker for that Echo device. It is programmed to move the mouth in response to speech that comes through the Echo device, be it Alexa, a singer or a podcast author. The fact that it is designed to work tightly with the Alexa ecosystem will mean that if Amazon issues updates, this peripheral will gain these updates.
It will become the first of many toys and novelties that work in conjunction with the Alexa ecosystem. This includes short-form electronics modules that will be pitched to artisans who make giftware such as cuckoo clocks or Christmas decorations for them to include in their projects. Let’s not forget that Google, Apple and others will look towards extending their “smart-home” or similar platforms to work with this class of device.
An issue that will be raised regarding this product class is the fact that connected novelties and toys are being designed with very little thought for household privacy and data security. Infact a lot of IT security experts even suggest that people don’t use or give these devices at all. But this device is designed to work as if it is a peripheral for an Amazon Echo device and only connects to it via Bluetooth.
There will still be issues regarding the design of connected novelties and toys including data security and ease of connectivity. This is more so if they are to be sold through the toy and giftware retail sector where most staff are not likely to have a clue regarding the technicalities associated with these devices.
One way is that if the gadgets are to work alongside a voice-driven home assistant platform or regular computer / mobile operating system, they have to work using a “gadget API” associated with that platform or operating system and developed by the platform’s or operating-system’s developer. This is without the need to write a hefty app to gain the most out of the device. The use of APIs rather than a custom app or skill can also limit the kind of data that is collected via the novelty or toy and provide the end-user with greater control over what the device does.
As well, the “gadget API” has to also support a simple but secure setup process including permissions for various activities like use of microphones, cameras or speakers. This may be a similar process to installing or using an app on your smartphone or mobile-platform tablet where the operating system will ask whether to use the camera, microphone or sensors. Other issues that will also come about include a “secure by design” approach for the gadget’s firmware including regular update cycles to rectify software vulnerabilities.
Let’s not forget that the “gadget APIs” would also need to support the use of the connected device as a “master clock” if the gadget is to display or react to the current time or date. This is to avoid the need to reset the clock on these devices whenever Daylight Saving Time starts or ends or worry about that clock losing time.
What I see coming about is a relentless push to offer toys, novelties and giftware that are intended to work with the home network and the Internet. But there needs to be a secure simple approach to how these gadgets are designed.