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56 Years After Creation, Barbie Finally Finds Her Voice With Help From SF Startup

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Barbie has been bought, sold, criticized and critiqued for more than half a century now - all without uttering a word. She's even changed careers dozens of times and never said a peep. But all of that has changed. Barbie now has opinions.

Hello Barbie is a "smart doll," meaning she can have an actual conversation rather than just talking at you. The toy also uses speech recognition similar to what Siri uses on your iPhone.

The team giving a voice to Mattel's newest Barbie is San Francisco-Based ToyTalk. The company was started by Pixar alums, including ToyTalk CEO Oren Jacob, who says that this new version of Barbie will be unlike any talking toys we've seen in the past.

"This is a live internet connected toy, via Wi-Fi," said Jacob.

To talk to Barbie, users press her belt buckle and talk into a microphone in the doll's necklace.

"We process that speech in the cloud…understand what you said, decide what Barbie should say back and stream that back," says Jacob, who explains that it all happens over a secure connection.

Here's what she sounds like:

Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow applauds Mattel for finding a new way to reinvent the toy, which was first sold in 1959.

"The way Mattel has kept barbie relevant for years is to give her a new job. That's not cutting it anymore," Yarrow said.

Yarrow is a little concerned that Hello Barbie will remove some of the creativity required to play with dolls in the past.

"Being able to use your imagination for something that's static, that's a great gift for kids," she said.

While Hello Barbie will carry on conversations, it won't respond to everything. Jacob insists that, no matter how hard kids try, the conversations will remain PG.

"Everything the character says is written by the writing teams, by Mattel and Toy Talk here," said. Jacob.

Hello Barbie is expected to hit the market in time for Christmas. It will retail for about $75. If the parent chooses, the company will create and store audio files of the conversations that the parents could later access and delete.

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