"Nolan Bushnell requested a bear with a built-in recorder, to parrot a child's words. I suggested creating something with a personality. The result was A.G. Bear."
Nolan wanted an innovative stuffed animal -- a "recording teddy bear" that could play back brief sentences spoken to it. He had just started a toy company and had lots of ideas but no electronics department.
Axlon gave us two tough requirements for the bear's voice:
"The voice box has to cost less than $2.50 to build," they said.
Then they added, "... and we need one for the International Toy Fair -- in two months!"
That tight delivery schedule left little time for brain-storming. But we felt we'd have a more appealing toy if we could turn the talk-back concept into "growl-back."
Our idea was to make the bear take the speaker's voice pattern, print its own inflection on it, then mumble it back. The result would be a soft murmur that sounded like a response to the speaker.
We built a prototype of our concept on speculation, figuring that the best way to explain it was to show the idea in action. One week later, we demonstrated it to Axlon and they signed a contract.
Over the next few weeks, we designed 3 different breadboards using discrete components. As our "mumbling" algorithms improved, each new version sounded better.
The third time around we hit paydirt, meeting Axlon's cost and sound quality goals.
Elapsed time? One month.
Now we had to give Axlon's sales people something to show. So we layed out a printed circuit board, and Axlon built 50 of them into "demonstrator" bears. Meanwhile, we started turning our functional breadboard into a custom integrated circuit.
We selected Holt Inc. as the chip vendor, and met with their layout people to review the design.
Holt started to work and soon had a circuit breadboard for us to evaluate. A series of checks, changes and design reviews brought us to chip layout in about 4 weeks.
A.G. (for "Almost Grown") Bear, an instant success that toy industry analyst Paul Valentine proclaims "... great for the imagination. It's saying whatever a kid imagines it says."
The Morgan Hill, California and Boulder, Colorado police departments had their officers carry the talking teddies to calm frightened children, especially those involved in traffic accidents or cases of physical or sexual abuse.
As for Axlon, they came back to ADL to design a
second-generation sound chip: one that would accommodate a whole family
of talking teddy bears.
Unfortunately, Axlon is now long out of business and AG's fans have not
able to find any bears for the next generation! We do have a huge crate
AG Bear chips and are working with a China manufacturer who is getting
to make AG again.