Avakai Are Real Imaginary Friends For The Digital World

The founders of Vai Kai want to introduce us to Avakai, a play companion for kids growing up in our quickly developing digital world. Avakai are imaginary friends, interactive smart toys, and tools for social interaction. Avakai offer three distinct “superpowers” which allow children to speak in musical tones, share feelings, and sense proximity to other Avakai.

The creators of Avakai want to change the way our children are affected by today’s technology. When Matas Petrikas looked for a birthday gift for his six year old daughter, he wanted something that combined traditional toys with the latest innovations on the market. He couldn’t find that something so he and Justyna Zubrycka started Vai Kai. Petrikas’ skills from creating digital products at SoundCloud and Zubrycka’s expertise in designing wooden toys led to Avakai, a Bluetooth enabled smart toy with the resemblance of a Russian nesting doll.

Made with high-quality wood from sustainable forests, Avakai look like simple wooden dolls that my daughter would play with in her dollhouse. Without losing the creativity of an open-ended wooden toy, Avakai contain technology which takes imaginary play to a new level. Each Avakai doll is Bluetooth enabled, has touch sensors right beneath its surface, and provides sound, light, and haptic feedback. These are the features Vai Kai call superpowers.

Avakai, designed for (but not limited to) children ages five to nine, work at their fullest potential when paired with another, though it is not necessary to enjoy all they have to offer when played with alone. When two Avakai are bought together, they are automatically connected—without the use of apps, batteries, or hours of setup. After many hours of play, though, Avakai can be recharged using a USB cable.

Avakai are meant to connect children through technology, not isolate them. By gently tapping the top of their Avakai, users can send musical notes to another Avakai; with enough practice children can create their own language and communicate through music. To help children communicate their feelings, show empathy, and encourage emotional development, messages about a child’s mood can be sent between Avakai. When a user gently strokes the top of an Avakai, the small light on the doll’s chest changes color. Each color signifies a mood, and when the color matches how your child is feeling they can hold the doll with a hand on each side to send a hug to their friend and connected Avakai.

The wooden dolls can also be used for games like hide-and-seek or scavenger hunts. Much like telling someone if they are hot or cold when looking for something, Avakai can sense when they are near another Avakai doll. As they get closer to one another their haptic feedback (vibration) gets stronger as does the doll’s musical notes and light. One child can hide with their Avakai and another can find them using their own. And because the doll opens to reveal a secret hiding spot, a friend or a parent can place a small treasure in the Avakai, hide it, and then have someone else use another Avakai to find the treasure.

If two Avakai are more than 50 meters apart, they need to communicate through an app which can be downloaded for free. By using the app, a parent or child can choose who their Avakai is connected to. The other long-distance Avakai must do the same. This allows children to communicate with one another, grandparents, or even parents when miles are between them.

The app is also needed if there is only one Avakai. My daughter could send a hug to my smartphone with her Avakai while she is at school. Or she can use my phone to locate her Avakai after I hide it at the park.

The dolls do not contain microphones, cameras, or connect to the internet. Petrikas said in an interview, “For us it’s important to create experiences that connect children, not children and marketing systems." This allows a child to maintain anonymity while using modern technology—an important detail parents value.

Parents also value quality toys that encourage creativity, outdoor play, and are made to last. Avakai seem to have these superpowers too. Vai Kai’s Kickstarter campaign is hoping to raise money for production costs but also to receive customer feedback for ongoing Avakai development. Creators Matas Petrikas and Justyna Zubrycka and their team at Vai Kai are committed to craftsmanship and the magic of technology, especially when technology breeds social interaction and imagination.