Vancouver’s Peter Fitzpatrick is taking his AI-powered toy company to Silicon Valley

Fawn AI Toys has already won big at a TED AI hackathon

Beanie the Bunny is an AI-powered stuffed animal that can tell stories, play games, and hold a conversation—all while moving her ears to convey emotion. It was designed to help young children identify and process their feelings.

Last month, Beanie won an award at the TED AI Hackathon in San Francisco. The event, the first TED-affiliated one of its kind, celebrated the transformative power of AI for good. For Peter Fitzpatrick, co-founder of Vancouver-based Fawn AI Toys, it was an opportunity to share his creation, and he was excited to see crowds gather around his demos.

“We’re quite sure people want it, the real question is how quickly can we get there?” he says.

Fitzpatrick recently discovered that some of the adult challenges he was facing led back to childhood experiences, and this coincided with him seeing a demo for an large language model-based (LLM) teacher.

“While it didn’t work very well, it struck the idea of creating a toy,” Fitzpatrick remembers.

He shared the idea with his co-founder, Robyn Campbell, who suggested that the toy could help children identify and process their emotions.

“When she said that, I realized I could have used that when I was going through my experience as a kid,” shares Fitzpatrick, whose parents divorced when he was seven years old.

Another reason for creating these toys is to help reduce screen time. Research shows that children who use screens early on are more likely to have it become part of their day-to-day routine. Excessive screen time has also been linked to mental health struggles.

“Beanie the Bunny is something engaging that parents will be able to give their children, instead of putting them in front of a screen,” Fitzpatrick says. “We also believe deeply that the character that shows up with the toy really matters.”

When thinking about an animal to represent the brand, Fitzpatrick and Campbell settled on a fawn—something recognizable to kids around the world that also carried a magical spiritual aspect in various cultures and religions.

As a screenwriter, Campbell soon began to create a YouTube series to accompany the toy. The series will also feature a fox, owl and a bear. The two hope to expand Fawn AI Toys to include those cuddly variations in the future, and will be moving to Silicon Valley to continue the project and expand their team.

As Fawn is designed for children five to eight years old, the team is focused more on safe answers rather than perfect ones. “LLMs are incredible at coming up with answers to questions,” he asserts, “and in this case, when you’re talking about playing with children, as long as the answer is safe, it being 100 per cent factually correct is less important.”

They’ve run tests to push the toy to go toward topics deemed unsafe for children, and Beanie the Bunny—their current prototype—has consistently responded politely and pivoted the conversation.

While Beanie needs to be connected to a computer during demos, Fitzpatrick remains optimistic they’ll soon have a prototype they can take to malls for kids to play with.

“We should be there before the end of the month,” Fitzpatrick says, adding that pre-orders of Fawn are available to help raise the capital needed to create a standalone toy.

“I think there’s a world in the future where everyone grows up with artificial companions, and we’re aiming to build a company that puts companions in every home,” he asserts. “We’re designing them specifically to encourage human relationships, but also be there to talk through things that maybe someone doesn’t want to talk about with other humans. People have their own emotions, triggers, baggage, motivations and I think there’s a place for a trustworthy, artificial companion that helps us all mature in a more healthy way.”