Not too long ago, you’d walk the halls of the New York Toy Fair, passing the crayons, glitter, puzzles, dolls, plushies before finally, tucked away in a corner, you’d see a handful of tech-infused toys. Times have changed! This year’s Toy Fair had tech everywhere, not just in the usual tech corner but as part of many toy companies’ core strategies. There’s a race to get in on the hottest trends in tech, and from the looks of it, kids are going to be the big winners.
The Rise of AR and VR
Augmented reality (AR) has become the rising star for next-gen storytelling and gameplay. Using a phone or tablet, kids can point at an AR marker included with the toy to make worlds come popping off of their screens. SpinTales from Tilt ingeniously prints AR patterns into scenes on kids bedsheets, rugs and duvets, making the scenes come to life through the lens of a smartphone camera.
Pai Technology is betting its company strategy on AR. Their storybooks take traditional kids books and add AR features. Cube-tastic, another Pai product, uses AR to teach kids to solve Rubik’s cube, while their Ocean Pets game asks kids to use clay to shape fish that come alive using AR technology.
Seedling weaves together crafty DIY projects and virtual reality (VR). Kids build and decorate their own cardboard VR glasses, build a maze, and use an app to turn that maze into an immersive 3D experience. Odyssey Toys spices up drones by adding VR control, so kids can see from the drone’s camera. And, Merge VR is bringing virtual and augmented realities together with child-friendly, soft VR goggles with a backside cut-out for AR.
Physical Meets Digital
Kids technology continues to go screenless. Smart toys are connected, programmable devices that get kids active and away from their phones, TVs, and iPads. ROXs from A-Champs, a new player in the space, are durable, oversized digital buttons that can be programmed for a variety of outdoor games like tag, Simon, or DIY obstacle courses.
Fitness trackers come in pint-sized versions — Vivitar and VTech each have kids fitness bands that mimic their adult counterparts. UNICEF’s Kid Power Band ties walking steps to social good — as kids log their steps, they provide food packets for malnourished children. Technology Will Save Us gets more hands-on with the digital side, offering a Mover Kit that allows kids to build their own fitness wearable before playing games with it.
Usually music precedes dancing, but BeatMoovz flips that on its head. The Japanese toy licensed by Cra-Z-Art consists of wrist and ankle bands that light up and make sound effects as kids dance around, moving their arms and legs.
Or, you can look skyward. An early prototype, Aura from KD Interactive is an everyday drone, only this one is controlled with simple hand motions communicated to the drone through a special haptic glove. Controlling a drone with hand movements is magic for kids of all ages.
Collectibles on Steroids
It’s no longer enough to just hand a pack of Pokémon cards or an action figure to a generation of kids that greet inanimate toys with confused expressions and “But what does it do?” From old classics to new franchises, we’re seeing creative ways to bring life to collectibles. Light Seekers from Tomy uses augmented reality to bring a set of physical action figures and trading cards into a video game for mobile devices. Familiar collectible companies like Pez have partnered with Angry Birds to create branded dispensers with scannable codes that unlock game content, and even classic Lionel trains showcased app-controlled trains controlled over a Bluetooth connection.