Title:
Method and System to Authenticate Interactive Children's Toys
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A method and a system (10) which is capable of being implemented as a children's' toy. The system (10) is operable to interface an add-on device (20a) or a story to an interactive environment hosted by the system (10). The system (10) includes a response engine (30) which is operable to receive notification (225) from add-on devices introduced to the system (10). The response engine is operable to generate challenges (235) to the add-on devices (20a) wherein the challenges include watermarks embedded therein. The response engine (30) is operable to receive corresponding responses sent from the add-on devices (20a) in response to the challenges (235). Moreover, the response engine (30) is further operable to analyze the corresponding responses to determine whether or not the add-on devices (20a) are able to extract the watermarks correctly from the challenges (235) in generating the corresponding responses. The system (10) is thereby selectively capable of accepting the new devices (20a) to the system (10), thereby preventing counterfeit or copy products being used with the system (10).



Inventors:
Fontijn, Wilhelmus Franciscus Johannes (Eindhoven, NL)
De Ruijter, Hendrikus Albertus Adrianus Maria (Shanghai, CN)
Application Number:
11/996306
Publication Date:
11/13/2008
Filing Date:
07/07/2006
Assignee:
KONINKLIJKE PHILIPS ELECTRONICS N. V. (Eindhoven, NL)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63F9/24
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
RADA, ALEX P
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
PHILIPS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY & STANDARDS (Valhalla, NY, US)
Claims:
1. A method of interfacing to an add-on device or a story in an interactive play-toy environment, wherein the interactive comprises a response engine, said method comprising steps of: (a) introducing the add-on device or the story to the response engine such that the add-on device or the story is operable to notify its presence to the response engine; (b) generating a challenge at the response engine and then communicating said challenge to the add-on device or story, wherein said challenge includes one or more watermarks, said one or more watermarks including one or more identifiers to which the add-on device or story is challenged to identify and respond to in a corresponding response from the add-on device or story; (c) receiving the challenge at the add-on device or story and then processing the challenge at the add-on device or story to generate the corresponding response; (d) sending the corresponding response from the add-on device or story to the response engine; and (e) receiving the corresponding response at the response engine and analyzing the response to determine whether or not the add-on device or story is operable to extract said one or more watermarks correctly from the challenge in generating the corresponding response.

2. The method as claimed in claim 1, wherein in step (e) correct extraction of the one or more watermarks is indicative that the add-on device or story is acceptable to the interactive play-toy environment for subsequent interaction therewith.

3. The method as claimed in claim 1, wherein the play-toy environment includes a plurality of interacting devices, said method further comprising a step of permitting the add-on device or story to interact with at least one of the response engine and the plurality of devices on acceptance of said add-on device story to the interactive play-toy environment.

4. The method as claimed in claim 1, wherein the play-toy environment includes a plurality of interacting devices, said method further comprising a step of implementing the response engine in one or more of said plurality of devices.

5. (canceled)

6. The method as claimed in claim 1, wherein the challenge is implemented as one or more of: watermarked audio communication, watermarked wireless communication, or watermarked visual communication.

7. The method as claimed in claim 1, wherein the corresponding response is implemented as one or more Of: watermarked audio communication, watermarked wireless communication, or watermarked visual communication.

8. The method as claimed in claim 1, said method comprising a further step of arranging for the response engine to conduct a sequence of interactive events within the play-toy environment to a benefit of a user thereof.

9. The method as claimed in claim 8, wherein the sequence of interactive events is dynamically adaptable in response to acceptance of the add-on device or story to the play-toy environment.

10. A system operable to interface an add-on device or a story to an interactive play-toy environment hosted by the system, said system comprising: a response engine being operable to receive notification from said add-on device or story indicative of a presence thereof, said response engine further being operable to generate a challenge to the add-on device or story in response to receipt of notification therefrom, said challenge including one or more watermarks embedded therein, said one or more watermarks including one or more identifiers to which the add-on device or story is challenged to identify and respond to in a corresponding response from the add-on device or story, said response engine further being operable to receive the corresponding response sent from the add-on device or story in response to said challenge, said response engine further being operable to analyze the corresponding response to determine whether or not said add-on device or story is operable to extract said one or more watermarks correctly from the challenge in generating the corresponding response.

11. The system as claimed in claim 10, wherein the system includes a plurality of devices operable to interact with said response engined.

12. The system as claimed in claim 10 implemented as an interactive children's toy.

13. Software executable on computing hardware, said software being operable to implement the method as claimed in claim 1 within an interactive play-toy environment.

14. (canceled)

15. An add-on device for use in an interactive play-toy system comprising: means for producing a signal announcing to the system that the add-on device is present; means for receiving a water-marked challenge signal from said system, wherein the water-marked challenge signal includes one or more identifiers for the add-on device to respond to; means for providing a response to the water-marked challenge signal, wherein said response allows the add-on device to be associate with the system.

16. The add-on device of claim 15, wherein the response is one or more of water-marked audio communication, watermarked wireless communication or water-marked visual communication.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to methods of interfacing to add-on devices in interactive environments, for example to methods of interfacing to add-on devices in an interactive play-toy environment suitable for children. Moreover, the present invention also relates to apparatus, for example add-on devices, operable according to the methods. Furthermore, the present invention also concerns systems capable of receiving add-on devices, the systems being operable according to the mentioned methods. Additionally, the present invention relates to software capable of being executed on computing hardware for implementing the mentioned methods.

BACKGROUND TO THE INVENTION

Interactive toys for children are widely known and provide enhanced enjoyment to children in that the interactive toys are capable of providing a series of responses to stimulus such as from the children. Moreover, interactive toys have been manufactured which are capable of functioning mutually interactively in groups to delight their corresponding children; the children are also provided with an opportunity of interacting with such groups of mutually interactive toys.

A problem that arises in practice is that a first manufacturer invests considerable resources in developing and marketing an interactive toy or group of toys, only to find that a second manufacturer either develops further toys capable of interacting with the first manufacturer's toy or groups of toys or attempts to provide functional equivalents of the first manufacturer's toys. Activities of such a second manufacturer not only undermine the first manufacturer's economic position but also potentially unfairly may take advantage of the first manufacturer's investment in its interactive toy or group of toys and its reputation.

One approach to circumventing such activities of the second manufacturer is to employ watermarking techniques. For example, there is described in a published U.S. Pat. No. 6,737,957, assigned to Verance Corporation, a system operable to employ a watermark embedded in an audio signal to remotely control a device. Thus, various devices such as toys equipped with appropriate detectors are capable of detecting hidden signals conveyed by way of watermarking. Such hidden signals are capable of triggering one or more of actions and changes of state. For example, the watermarks can be used with a time gate device, wherein detection of the watermarks defines a time interval during which a user is permitted to perform an action, for example pressing a button, typing in an answer, turning a key in a lock and so forth. To prevent fraudulent activation of the time gate, the device can be configured to react only from watermarks coming from live broadcasts, and not from replays from tapes or other storage devices. See also WO 2004/016331, disclosing remote control using collectible objects.

A technical problem which is encountered is that use of such audio watermarking techniques is not found to be sufficiently robust to prevent unauthorized copying of products by third parties, for example by way of copy products or counterfeit products.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

An object of the invention is to provide an improved method of interfacing to add-ons in interactive environments, for example for circumventing copying and counterfeiting of interactive add-on products such as interactive toys.

According to a first aspect of the present invention, there is provided a method of interfacing to an add-on device or a story in an interactive environment, wherein the interactive environment comprises a response engine, said method comprising steps of:

(a) introducing the add-on device or the story to the response engine such that the add-on device or the story is operable to notify its presence to the response engine;
(b) generating a challenge at the response engine and then communicating said challenge to the add-on device or the story, wherein said challenge includes one or more watermarks;
(c) receiving the challenge at the add-on device or the story and then processing the challenge at the add-on device or the story to generate a corresponding response;
(d) sending the corresponding response from the add-on device or the story to the response engine; and
(e) receiving the corresponding response at the response engine and analyzing the response thereat to determine whether or not the add-on device or the story is operable to extract said one or more watermarks correctly from the challenge in generating the corresponding response.

The invention is of advantage in that it is capable of providing an improved method of interfacing to add-ons or stories in interactive environments.

Optionally, in step (e) of the method, correct extraction of the one or more watermarks is indicative that the add-on device or the story is acceptable to the interactive environment for subsequent interaction therewith. Such correct extraction of the one or more watermarks enables the system to selectively accept add-on devices or stories, thereby excluding counterfeit or copy add-on devices or stories and accepting bone fide add-on devices or stories.

Optionally, the environment includes a plurality of interacting devices, said method further comprising a step of permitting the add-on device or the story to interact with at least one of the response engine and the plurality of devices on acceptance of said add-on device or the story to the interactive environment. The method is thereby, once the response engine accepts the add-on device or story, capable of permitting the add-on device or story acceptable to the environment to subsequent participate in the environment. For example, in a situation where the add-on device is an animal toy introduced to the environment implemented as a toy farmyard, the introduced animal toy is capable on acceptance to the toy farmyard of participating in a story being presented to a user by the toy farmyard.

Optionally, in the method, the environment includes a plurality of interacting devices, said method further comprising a step of implementing the response engine in one or more of said plurality of devices. Such an implementation is of benefit in that the environment does not need, from the user's viewpoint, to include a specific entity for implementing the response engine.

Optionally, the method further comprises a step of including one or more identifiers in said one or more watermarks to which the add-on device or the story is challenged to identify and respond to in the corresponding response from the add-on device or the story. Use of such additional one or more identifiers provides the add-on device or the story with an additionally difficult challenge which enables the add-on device or the story to be scrutinized by the response engine to additional extent to check its authenticity.

Optionally, in the method, the challenge is implemented as one or more of: watermarked audio communication, watermarked wireless communication, watermarked visual communication. Use of watermarked audio is potentially inexpensive to implement as the environment and add-on device are potentially already equipped with audio functionality for other purposes, for example user-entertainment purposes. Watermarked wireless communication is of benefit in that a user will be unaware of communication occurring between the response engine and the add-on device or the story, thereby checking whether or not the add-on device or the story is bona fide occurs transparently to the user.

Optionally, in the method, the corresponding response is implemented as one or more of: watermarked audio communication, watermarked wireless communication, watermarked visual communication. Use of watermarked audio is potentially inexpensive to implement as the environment and add-on are potentially already equipped with audio functionality for other purposes, for example user-entertainment purposes. Watermarked wireless communication is of benefit in that a user will be unaware of communication occurring between the response engine and the add-on device or the story, thereby checking whether or not the device or the story is bona fide occurs transparently to the user.

Optionally, the method comprises a further step of arranging for the response engine to conduct a sequence of interactive events within the environment to a benefit of a user thereof. The user is thereby potentially provided with a sequence of entertainment, for example telling an interactive story to children.

Optionally, in the method, the sequence of interactive events is dynamically adaptable in response to acceptance of the add-on device or the story to the environment. The user is thereby capable of being provided, for example, with a dynamically-variable storyline to maintain user attention.

According to a second aspect of the invention, there is provided a system operable to interface an add-on device or a story to an interactive environment hosted by the system, said system comprising:

a response engine being operable to be capable of receiving notification from said add-on device or the story indicative of a presence thereof, said response engine further being operable to generate a challenge to the add-on device or the story in response to receipt of notification therefrom, said challenge including one or more watermarks embedded therein,

said response engine further being operable to receive a corresponding response sent from the add-on device or the story in response to said challenge,

said response engine further being operable to analyze the corresponding response to determine whether or not said add-on device or the story is operable to extract

said one or more watermarks correctly from the challenge in generating the corresponding response.

Optionally, the system includes a plurality of devices operable to interact with said response engine.

Optionally, the system is implemented as an interactive children's toy.

According to a third aspect of the invention, there is provided software executable on computing hardware, said software being operable to implement a method according to the first aspect of the invention.

According to a fourth aspect of the invention, there is provided an add-on device for potential use with a system according to the second aspect of the invention, said system being operable according to a method of the first aspect of the invention to interrogate said add-on device to determine whether or not said add-on device is capable of responding correctly to a challenge issued by the system.

It will be appreciated that features of the invention are susceptible to being combined in any combination without departing from the scope of the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Further objects, features and advantages will appear from the following detailed description of several embodiments of the invention with reference to the drawings, in which:

FIG. 1 is a schematic view of a system comprising a plurality of mutually interacting devices, for example interactive toys, operable to implement a method of the present invention in conjunction with a response engine;

FIG. 2 is a schematic view of an implementation of the system in FIG. 1 wherein the response engine is included as an integral part of one or more of the devices; and

FIG. 3 is a flow chart illustrating interaction steps executed within the systems of FIGS. 1 and 2 when implementing the method of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EMBODIMENTS OF THE INVENTION

FIG. 1 shows an embodiment of a system according to the present invention indicated generally by 10. The system 10 comprises a plurality of devices 20 which are capable of mutually interacting as well as interacting with a response engine denoted by 30. One or more users 50 are capable of interacting with one or more of the devices 20.

The devices 20 are conveniently implemented as toys suitable for children, for example the devices 20 are susceptible to being fabricated as user-collectable toys wherein each toy represents a different type of character. As an example, the system 10 is manufactured to be a toy farm wherein the devices 20 are fabricated to be farm animals of various types, for example geese, sheep, pigs, cows and so forth. Children are thereby capable of progressively accumulating the devices 20 implemented as toy farm animals until a complete collection of farm animals is achieved. In one embodiment, the devices are electromechanical devices implemented as toy farm animals which are operable to spatially move by a mechanical walking movement to mimic migration of real animals which the devices 20 are intended to emulate.

The devices 20 and response engine 30 are optionally implemented using software executable on computing hardware. Alternatively, the devices 20 can be implemented by way of custom integrated circuits, namely digital hardware such as one or more application specific integrated circuits (ASICs) or FPGA (field programmable gate arrays).

The response engine may be a piece of code running on the base unit, e.g. a MP3 player IC such as symphony/melody/harmony (Philips PNX010x) chip.

In operation, the devices 20 mutually communicate as well as provide responses in response to stimulus from the user 50, for example a child. For example, in the case of a toy farm, the user 50 provides a stimulus by offering the devices 20, namely toy animals, an equivalent of food and the devices 20 respond accordingly, for example by spatially migrating to the equivalent of food.

Another way of operation is that the animal 20 is shaken, which results in that a motion sensor initiates that a message is sent to the base unit, whereupon the response engine calculates a response, which is sent, for example an audio replay.

The signals exchanged may have any suitable form, such as described in any of WO 01/057868, WO 03/083857 or WO 03/103273, the contents of which are incorporated in the present specification by reference. The signals and messages could follow any suitable protocol and support multiple wireless standards and proprietary protocols.

A problem arises when the user 50 introduces a new device 20a to the system 10. The new device 20a is superficially similar to the devices 20, although potentially from an alternative manufacturer; for example, the device 20a can be a counterfeit copy product. A manufacturer of the system 10 is concerned with a technical problem of rendering the system 10 capable of identifying the device 20a as a non bona fide product and not accepting it within the system 10, thereby discouraging the user 50 from purchasing or otherwise accumulating such non bona fide products.

Before describing a manner in which use of the present invention is capable of at least partially addressing this aforesaid technical problem of identifying the device 20a to be non bona fide, the devices 20 themselves will be elucidated in further detail with reference to FIG. 1. Each device 20 comprises a data processor 100 coupled in communication with a data memory 120. Moreover, the processor 100 is further coupled to a first interface 130 for communicating from the device 20 to other such devices 20 and to the response engine 30. Moreover, each device 20 further comprises a second interface 140 to the user 50, for example by one or more of audio presentation, video presentation, movement of one or more mechanical parts, a configuration of one or more lights and so forth. Optionally, the interfaces 130, 140 are implemented as a single interface; for example the device 20 communicates with the user 50, other devices 20 and the response engine 30 by way of audio signals. In one example embodiment of the invention, the interface 130 is a short-distance wireless interface, for example a wireless interface akin to BlueTooth, whereas the interface 140 comprises a microphone for sensing utterances from the user 50, one or more forms of visual presentation to the user 50, and one or more forms of audio presentation of information such as a loudspeaker coupled to a voice synthesizer. The interface 140 may comprise a sensor, such as a motion sensor, which senses a movement of the device 20, for example the device 20 being shaken or moved by a user, whereupon an action is triggered as described below.

A method in which the system 10 interacts with the new device 20a when introduced to the system 10 will now be described in overview. When the device 20a is introduced into communication range of the system 10, it emits a first signal announcing to the system 10 that the device 20a is present, which may be triggered by firing the motion sensor. The first signal is conveyed to the response engine 30 which initiates a challenge-response protocol involving the response engine 30 sending a watermarked challenge to the device 20a. The device 20a receives the watermarked challenge. In a situation wherein the device 20a is a bona fide device genuinely compatible with the system 10, for example wherein the device 20a is a product from the manufacturer of the system 10, the device 20a is operable to extract the watermark from the watermarked challenge and to then respond back to the response engine 30 with a representation of the extracted watermark challenge; the response engine 30 accepts the representation as evidence that the device 20a is bona fide and can be included within the system 10. Conversely, in a situation wherein the device 20a is a copy or counterfeit product, the device 20a may be unable to correctly extract the watermark from the watermark challenge and thereby either fails to respond back to the response engine 30 or responds back with an incorrect extracted watermark payload; the response engine 30 thereby recognizes the device 20a to be non bona fide and configures the system 10 not to further respond with the device 20a, thereby excluding the device 20a from the system 10.

Optionally, as illustrated in FIG. 1, the response engine 30 is implemented as a separate entity, for example in a control unit forming a part of the system 10, for performing the method described above. Alternatively, the response engine 30 can be implemented integrally within one or more of the devices 20, for example included as executable software therein as illustrated in FIG. 2. Optionally, one of the devices 20 can be a principal device operable to provide functionality of the response engine 30. Yet more optionally, the response engine 30 can be included dormant in each of the devices 20 which are operable to interact to establish which one or more devices 20 are to provide the response engine 30 function; such a process to establish which of the one or more devices 20 provides the response engine 30 function beneficially uses either a form of peer-to-peer communication or random stand-off so that one or more of the devices 20 has an opportunity to establish a seniority order wherein one or more senior devices 20 elect to provide the response engine 30 function. The random stand-off is optionally implemented using random time delays in the devices 20, for example competitively communicating to establish which of the devices 20 is to function as the response engine 30.

The embodiment consist of two types of entities, the base unit and the characters. The base unit is the unit that plays the story. It may be a MP3 player connected to a receiver integrated circuit. The characters contain sensors and a transmitter. Any manipulation of the characters that are sensed by their sensors is transmitted to the receiver that relays it to the response engine. The response engine is a piece of software running on a base station that maps sensor events to responses, i.e. multimedia events, e.g. audio clips.

Any character can be an add-on. A first product may comprise a base station and some standard characters. To that environment, add-ons would be additional characters to the standard ones. But one could also sell a base station on its own and any entity capable of sending sensor events to the base station that can be interpreted by the response engine can act as an add-on.

If a character sends a message to the base station the message contains at least two things: character-id and sensor event (maybe just a sensor event type or a sensed value). To activate a character it may require it to obtain a ID that is send to it by the base station as a watermark. When the character now senses a sensor event it uses the obtained ID as character-ID. So the character identifies sensor events by the ID obtained from the base station.

The method of the invention described in the foregoing will now be further elucidated by way of illustration in FIG. 3 wherein steps of the method are indicated generally by 200. In a first step 210, the new device 20a is introduced to the system 10. In a second step 220, the device 20a is within communication range of the system 10, which can be upon detection of a base station transmission and/or a acoustic signal. Then, the device 20a emits a first signal 225 announcing to the system 10 that the device 20a is present. In a third step 230, the first signal 225 is conveyed to the response engine 30 which initiates a challenge-response protocol involving the response engine 30 sending a watermarked challenge 235 to the device 20a. In a fourth step 240, the device 20a receives the watermarked challenge 235. In a situation 250 wherein the device 20a is a bona fide (BF) device genuinely compatible with the system 10, for example wherein the device 20a is a product from the manufacturer of the system 10, the device 20a is operable to extract a watermark from the watermarked challenge 235 and to then respond back to the response engine 30 with a representation 255 of the extracted watermark challenge; the response engine 30 accepts the representation as evidence that the device 20a is bona fide and can be included in a step 260 within the system 10 for subsequent interaction 270 thereafter. Conversely, in a situation wherein the device 20a is a copy or counterfeit product (NBF), the device 20a in a step 280 is unable to correctly extract the watermark from the watermark challenge and thereby either fails to respond back to the response engine 30 or responds back with an incorrect extracted watermark; the response engine 30 in a step 290 thereby recognizes the device 20a to be non bona fide (NBF) and configures the system 10 not to further respond with the device 20a, thereby excluding the device 20a from the system 10.

It will be appreciated that embodiments of the invention described in the foregoing are susceptible to being modified without departing from the scope of the invention as defined by the accompanying claims.

The method 200 depicted in FIG. 3 is capable of being refined in that the response engine 30 when sending the watermarked challenge 235 is operable to embed a unique identifier in the watermark included in the challenge 235. The device 20a is then required to extract the watermark and the unique identifier included therein when successfully generating the response to send back to the response engine 30. Such a unique identifier places an extra burden on the device 20a to show that it is a bona fide device and not a counterfeit or copy product. The unique identifier can, for example, be a randomly generated number provided by the response engine 30. Alternatively, the unique identifier can be a form of complex convolution of information included in the first signal 225.

The identifier embedded in the watermark would be used by the add-on to identify itself to the response engine. When a sensor associated with an object is triggered (e.g. an animal moved and a motion sensor fired) the object sends a message with an identifier to identify which object that reports. Optionally, the type or another property of the sensor triggered is included in the message. By sending an identifier in the watermark, the response engine can control which identifier the object uses to report.

In the foregoing, it is to be appreciated that the response engine 30 is capable of presenting to the user 50, for example via one or more of the devices 20, 20a, a sequence of events, for example telling a story when the devices 20, 20a are toy characters representing entities such as farm animals, people, fantasy characters, model trains, soldiers on a battlefield and so forth.

Although, as elucidated in the foregoing, the interface 130 is described as being a wireless link, for example a Blue Tooth-like wireless link, it will be appreciated that the first signal 225, the watermarked challenge 235 and the representation 255 can be implemented acoustically via the interface 140 such that the user 50 perceives the newly introduced device 20a to present an acoustic or audio greeting to the response engine 30 which subsequently responds with an acoustic or audio interrogation to which the device 20a provides a corresponding acoustic or audio response. Optionally the response engine 30 and the devices 20, 20a are capable of communicating by a combination of wireless and acoustic/audio technologies.

The user may start the recognition of the new device 20a by giving a command, such as speaking the word “recognize”. The new device 20a recognizes the command and emits the first signal 225. In this way, the user is more in charge of the process, which may give a more realistic impression. Another way to start the recognition of the new device 20a is to move or shake the new device, whereupon the motion sensor initiates the above-mentioned signal sequence.

Optionally, the response engine 30 primarily steers the aforesaid sequence of events to present a story to the user 50. The story may be operable to be dynamically variable in terms of a story theme presented depending on one or more devices 20, 20a introduced by the user 50 to the response engine 30. In such a manner, the system 10 is able to present more interesting entertainment to the user 50 rather than merely repeating a single pre-prepared story line which potentially becomes deja vu to the user 50. However, children sometimes consider it to be an advantage to hear a repetition of a story.

The story may change over time, so that new items are introduced. The story may also be exchanged, for example being embedded in new device 20a to be added to the system. When the new device 20a is added, a new part of the story is also added.

The story may be watermarked in the same way as the new device 20a and may be included by the same process as described above, if the story is embedded in the new device.

The new part of the story may alternatively be added separately from a new device 20a, but on a tangible medium, such as a CD, a flash memory card, etc. Also in this case, the same recognition procedure is used as for a new device 20a, for example by providing the tangible medium with means for communicating with the response engine in the manner described above.

In the accompanying claims, numerals and other symbols included within brackets are included to assist understanding of the claims and are not intended to limit the scope of the claims in any way.

Expressions such as “comprise”, “include”, “incorporate”, “contain”, “is” and “have” are to be construed in a non-exclusive manner when interpreting the description and its associated claims, namely construed to allow for other items or components which are not explicitly defined also to be present. Reference to the singular is also to be construed to be a reference to the plural and vice versa.