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Toys and Tech: Digital dolls and other bad ideas

By Sarah Klein

Sometimes an old-fashioned product can continue to do perfectly well without a digital makeover. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of children's toys, particularly dolls. Every now and then a doll turns up that begs the question: "Who thought that was a good idea?" Even if it makes it past screenings and focus groups, the result is often a barrage of customer complaints and the doll ends up getting recalled or yanked from shelves and displays.

The most recent toy to attract negative attention was Bebe Gloton, or "gluttonous baby", a breast-feeding doll from the Spanish toymaker Berjuan. The doll cries when it's "hungry" and makes sucking noises as it "nurses." The kit also comes with a halter-top shirt for girls to wear while playing with their gluttonous babies, complete with daisy-patterned removable flaps just like a nursing bra!

But Bebe Gloton is just one in a long line of strange dolls that made it to the store shelves, at least temporarily. Pregnant Barbie – who was actually Barbie's oldest friend, Midge – was eventually pulled from Wal-Mart shelves after customers complained that it encouraged teen pregnancy. The doll came with a detachable magnetic stomach, inside of which was a tiny curled-up baby.

While it's important to be open and honest with children about the natural phases of life, like pregnancy and breastfeeding, it's also important to keep it simple and avoid confusion. Which is why Pee&Poo stuffed dolls might not make it in the U.S. anytime soon. While originally intended to be used as "potty training inspiration," the company's web site also touts them as "cuddly companions." Let's hope kids don't cuddle them at the wrong time!

Then there are the dolls that are just unimaginable. This intersex doll made in China and sold in Russia may have been intended to teach about a wide variety of chromosomal anomalies, but I'm willing to bet there were more than a few parents happy to pass up the opportunity!

But sometimes tech can make a difference. Brazilian designer Jorge Lopes recently started creating models of unborn babies using a 3-D printing technology based on ultrasound and MRI scans. Experts say the dolls are meant to help parents bond with their baby-to-be and better understand important physical characteristics.

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