Flying High-Tech

Toy Drones Fly to New Heights

Although it seems like they’re becoming commonplace in the R/C aisle, the concept of a flying R/C is actually still quite novel in the category. The progression from ground R/C to difficult-to-fly helicopters to slightly more stable quadcopters led us to where we are now: within constant search of how to make this still-challenging play pattern more fun.

Truthfully, a company could add lots of bells and whistles into a drone, but that still doesn’t mean a consumer will pick it up off the shelf. Since flying an R/C tends to be more difficult than controlling one on the ground, there is already an initial reluctance for a consumer to purchase a drone.

However, with new features added in to promote user accessibility and easier-to-use controls, such as one-touch stunts; auto-launch, -land, and –hover; and more durable bodies, drone companies are looking for ways to add to the user experience and make it less intimidating for beginners, but still fun for more advanced fliers.

Skyrocket_SkyViperGPS

Skyrocket Toys’ Sky Viper V2700 GPS

“With a drone, you’re still having to manage height and altitude with all that, so it just becomes that using two thumbs at the same time is definitely more of a challenging thing than using one thumb,” says Jared Wolfson, senior vice president of marketing, licensing, and entertainment at Skyrocket Toys.

And now that most companies are incorporating a lot of flight assist features that allow users to concentrate less on the complicated maneuvering and more on the in-flight experience, they’re starting to delve further into more advanced technology, just like the high-tech features that are found in hobby and professional grade drones.

The biggest challenge for companies competing in the drone category of R/C toys is to figure out how to balance all of the high-tech features with a price point that is reasonable for consumers. “The challenge we’ve had out there in the past is that the new technology costs a lot of money and in order to kind of cheat that technology, people have really scaled down the benefit that you get from it and it just really hasn’t had a good pay off,” says Wolfson. Skyrocket, like other companies in this toy space, is blending the real-life technology and still giving consumers the lower price point they’re looking for, meaning: Drones are becoming much more than just “a flying R/C toy.”

GPS & GEOFENCING

Wolfson says that the company combats issues of high-end technology versus consumer-approved price points by building Skyrocket’s hardware and software at the same time. Using the same Cleanflight system that is very familiar to drone enthusiasts and professionals, Skyrocket is able to map out exactly what they want to build and integrate it all at the same time, instead of having to go back and overcorrect any issues.

By building the hardware and the software at the same time, we get ahead of issues such as where you’ve got a really expensive GPS module, but it doesn’t necessarily work with the other parts. Then you have to add other costs to get it to properly work,” says Woflson. “We’ve layered that all in at the beginning. We know what we want to achieve, and we cost-effectively, yet very meaningfully, implement it all together at the same time.”

One of Skyrocket’s newest products in its Sky Viper line, the v2700 GPS, features built-in GPS technology that battles two major issues for quadcopter pilots, especially beginners: controllability and fly away. The GPS allows the drone to know where the controller is in relation to the drone itself, so it adds in new safety capabilities, such as geofencing. With this new feature, users can draw a zone around themselves and their drone, and the drone won’t fly outside of that virtual fenced-in area.

Additionally, it offers the ability to add in a one-touch return to home button. “The flight range on the GPS drone right now is about 2,000 feet, which is a big distance. So if you have it out on the far end of that range, it’s harder to see,” explains Wolfson.” With a one-touch button that returns to home, you can press that button and because it knows where it is in relation to you, it’ll fly all the way back to where you are and land.”

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Nikko Air Race Vision, from Toy State

FPV DRONE RACING

There is nothing trendier in the world of drones than drone racing, and thanks to partnerships with professional leagues like the Drone Racing League (DRL), companies such as Toy State can bring the drone racing experience right into consumers’ homes.

Toy State’s Nikko line will introduce the official DRL-licensed Nikko Air Race Vision 220 FPV Pro drone, which gives users a first-person view (FPV) in real time.

“With the technology we’re bringing, you’re seeing a real-time view of what that camera on the front of the drone is seeing, so you can have that traditional racing experience, just like the professional pilots that you see in the DRL events,” says Andy Friess, president of Toy State.

With very little competition on the market, this FPV drone uses a 5.8 GHz connection with the camera, so there is no delay between the drone and the FPV goggles.

In addition to providing a realistic racing experience, DRL will also feature Nikko Air exclusive courses on its flight simulator, allowing users to practice their piloting virtually in between being able to take their drone out for a spin.

“It’s one of those really neat twists in this type of product that you do have that virtual playground where you can go and practice and do all the things that you would be doing outside, just on your computer instead of out in the open air, which gives you a lot more practice time,” says Friess.

NKOK's Battle Quadcopters

NKOK’s Battle Quadcopters

LASER TAG & GAMING DRONES

NKOK figured out a way to take a technology that they already use in their line of toys—laser tag—and incorporate it into flight. Using an infrared connection that allows the drones to engage and interact with each other, NKOK’s Battlecopters turn flying drones into a multiplayer experience.

“That’s the biggest development. It’s no longer one person at a time doing their own thing, it’s expandable infinitely,” says NKOK designer Kevin Greene. “You could fill up an auditorium with a hundred of these if you had them and everyone would be able to be engaged. It’s the next evolution of drones where more than one person is not only flying at the same time, but interacting.”

The Battlecopters feature three levels of piloting difficulty, allowing them to be more accessible to a wider range of fliers. Players are challenged to fire their laser at the other drones. Each time a drone is hit, the controller unleashes vibrations and sound effects, and the drone does an aerial maneuver. On the third hit, it descends and must be repowered up to rejoin the battle.

The addition of laser tag ability expands the R/C play pattern to a social—as well as competitive—experience for the pilots.

As far as what’s next, we know that as an ever-surprising and developing category, flying R/C will never cease to go above and beyond our expectations.

“In these technology-based toys, you never truly know all the frontiers that are going to come next, which is exactly the exciting part of this type of category,” says Friess. “There are so many things in the flying space that are virtually untapped. If people just keep an eye on it, they’re going to be excited with what they see coming out over the next couple of years.” »

Let Plush Do the Talking

How Storytelling Plush Is Sparking Imagination in a New Generation of Kids

Thanks to a backlash against tech-toy overload, classic play is alive and well. Plush is among the most traditional of classic toys, and is reaping the benefits of millennial parents’ desire to reign in the tech, yet still provide innovative and nostalgic toys to their kids.

The plush category grew 6 percent in the 12 months ending this January, outperforming the total toy industry dollar growth of 4.7 percent, according to The NPD Group. The increase is more than double the 2 percent growth in the industry in 2015. In addition, plush grew twice as fast (11 percent) as total toy industry unit growth (5 percent) over the same period last year. [Read more...]

Kids Time Fair 2017: A Look Inside Central and Eastern Europe’s Largest Toy Fair

KidsTime main photo

by Reyne Rice and Lena Hedo

The largest trade show for toys, games, and children’s products in Central and Eastern Europe, Kids Time 2017, was held in Kielce, Poland, from Feb. 23 to 25. The eighth annual international fair featured toys and products for babies and children, and recorded double-digit growth in key measurements, including more than 7,000 professional trade visitors and 474 exhibitors.

With overwhelming interest from exhibitors and buyers, the event organizers filled a total of seven exhibit halls, covering 16,292 square meters (more than 175,000 square feet), and had a wait list of nearly 100 manufacturers. Next year, the show organizers plan to add an eighth temporary hall to accommodate more curated exhibitors. The Targi Kielce Exhibition Center, home of Kids Time, is the second largest exhibition center in this part of Europe. [Read more...]

Toys: By the Numbers

The NPD Group looks at the biggest growth drivers of 2016, and touches on what the new year will bring.

by Juli Lennett, U.S. Toys Industry Analyst, The NPD Group

Crossing the $20 billion threshold, the U.S. toy industry grew 5 percent to $20.4 billion in 2016, according to retail sales data* from global information company The NPD Group. Unit sales also grew 5 percent to $2 billion, and average retail price remained flat at $10.14. The industry was 16 percent larger in 2016 than 2013, which calculates to a compounded annual growth rate of 5 percent. [Read more...]

Tech 4 Kids and The Bridge Merge

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Strategic Partnership Aims to Yield Growth and New Opportunities

The toy industry is known for its mergers and acquisitions. They say no one leaves the toy industry—they just move around. One of the main reasons for this is the opportunity for growth. While some companies grow slowly but steadily with a hit here and a hit there, some of the most successful companies in this industry got to where they are via strategic acquisitions or mergers. Toy industry giants such as Mattel, Hasbro, Spin Master, and Jakks Pacific show how vital these moves are to taking a company to the next level.

The first, critical step is finding a complementary, like-minded company with which to merge. Brad Pedersen, president and CEO of Tech 4 Kids, and Jay Foreman, president and CEO of The Bridge Direct, met at toy industry event PlayCon several years ago, where they were introduced by a mutual colleague. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: An Important Step for Play: Mattel’s “Dads Who Play Barbie”

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by James Zahn

It’s incredible how much things can change in what seems, on one hand, to be a few short years, but on another, the result of decades of struggle. As my wife and I celebrate our eighth year of parenting, it’s hard to believe that I, as the father of two girls, have already spent the better part of a decade invested not only in the development of two beautiful human beings, but also in carrying a torch for play. [Read more...]

China Toy and Kids Expo 2016 Issues a Challenge to International Brands

More exhibition space, more exhibitors, and more visitors: China Kids and Toy Expo is growing fast, just like Chinese population and its needs. With the new two-child policy, effective from January 1st, 2016, and the middle class growing its revenue, there’s more room for international brands. Are they ready to take up the challenge?

by Laila Caroli, contributor to the Italian trade magazine Il Giornale dell’Infanzia, BCMI member

The China Kids and Toy Expo, held from Oct. 19 to 21, 2016 at the Shanghai New International Expo Center, set new benchmarks in terms of visitors and international participation. The show had 65,467 attendes from 130 countries and regions, and nearly 500 international brands from 20 countries and regions (up 30 percent compared to the year prior). [Read more...]

Life of a Toy Designer & Inventor

An inside look at the creative process.

by Peter Wachtel, chief creative kid, Kidtoyology

PrintI always loved toys—in fact, I still play with toys today. However, when I became a toy designer and inventor, I learned that designing toys is a bit like eating a box of chocolates. Sometimes, you don’t know what you’re going to get. You may have a specific idea in mind when you start out, but as the process continues, new information, technology, and needs come into play, requiring you to adapt your design or invention.

No matter what direction you started out in, the world and your own experiences will start to mold the toy in a new direction, as if it has a life of its own. The results of this may vary: Sometimes your design will work out even better than expected, like finding gold in the river, and sometimes you’ll find out that your idea was nothing more than a mirage, and that following some dreams can turn into nightmares. However, I guarantee that the journey will always be an exciting one. [Read more...]

WIT Stories: November 2016

Wi-Stories_Logo-1Every month, Women in Toys, Licensing, and Entertainment (WIT) turns the spotlight on members who are making an impact in toys, licensing, and entertainment and within the organization. These members exemplify leadership, commitment to the industry and the mission of WIT, and it are proud to recognize and celebrate their diverse talents and contributions through their WIT Stories. [Read more...]

The Five Mistakes You’re Making with Your Product Packaging

By Richard Carlow and Eugenia Chen, founding directors, C2C Studio

You have a cool brand, an innovative toy, and a great logo—but is that enough? Packaging, when done right, is what draws the consumer’s attention. It makes an emotional connection with a child or parent and motivates them to buy.

During our 20 years of combined service, we have seen a lot of mistakes made by companies in their product packaging. It is easy to eliminate these common errors, which can have detrimental effects on the launch of a new product. Here are five common mistakes to look out for: [Read more...]