It has been a favourite children's toy for generations, but the teddy bear might never be the same again. Microsoft, the American computer giant, has designed a bear containing microphones, a camera and technology that will allow it to watch a child's every move.
The bear, which the corporation has rather unimaginatively named Teddy, can use face recognition software to watch any child whose image has been programmed into its computer.
When a child moves, the bear's head pans across the room allowing it to send pictures to a parent watching via a remote video link. The parent would be able to speak to the child via the bear's sound system, giving the adult the chance to shout a warning or other instruction when required.
It may sound Orwellian but Steven Bathiche, who created the bear for Microsoft, said that it could help parents by taking on the characteristics of the person who owned the toy and helping them to monitor their child's movements even when they were busy.
"The vision behind this is to be in two places at once. This is what we are aiming for," he said.
The prototype bear was one of about 150 projects displayed at a recent two-day "tech fest" organised by Microsoft in Redmond, Washington, to give its worldwide teams of researchers the chance to show off their imaginative creations.
Most of the new inventions, including the bear, are based on the assumption that, before long, computers will move beyond the keyboard and mouse pad and into everyday domestic goods, including stuffed toys.
The bear is powered by motors inside its belly which operate its head and limbs.
There are also four microphones and a sound system to send and broadcast messages, a wireless network connection to the internet, and the latest computer software.
A spokesman for Microsoft, which has yet to set a date to begin commercial production of the bear, said: "He has face tracking capabilities and will react as though he was shy or embarrassed if there are a lot of people around him. One of the scenarios we envision in the future is that you could be playing Monopoly with your child and Teddy will play with you."
In addition to playing games, the bear's creators are also hoping that the toy could be used as an educational tool by installing teaching programs that would help children to learn simple concepts and ideas.
Claire Rayner, the agony aunt who is also the patron of Kidscape, a children's charity, said that she had doubts about the merits of the new toy. "The first thing it made me think of was Brave New World," she said. "What children want is human contact.
"To condition children that a teddy bear is a talking, caring parent does not go very far towards raising someone that will later relate well with adults.
"It doesn't make sense. Instinctively children bond with whatever is cuddly and nice to them and talks to them. If this toy actually does talk to them in familiar voices, I would be very disturbed by that, it is too inhuman."
Roger Vincent, a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said that the toy could be useful but gave a warning to parents that they should not rely upon the technology to watch over their children.
"Many accidents occur when children are not watched carefully enough. Unless the bear can follow the child around, pick them up and keep them out of trouble parents would be well advised to stay responsible," he said.
"The danger comes when parents over-rely on technology. Machines should only ever be used as a back up, not as a primary care giver."