Earlier this week, Senior Editor Marissa DiBartolo wrote about how the floor of the American International Toy Fair 2014 was lacking in the realm of appcessories, and that many companies were heading back to the classic play patterns, especially in the activities category. I also noticed an emerging trend that does not heavily rely on app technology, but does not veer from the idea of incorporating tech into playtime: robots.
As I walked the floor, I saw a bunch of different robotic products that really displayed where the category is heading—and a lot of that was not app-reliant. Of course, most of these robots can be controlled with or used with smart devices, but gone are the days where “and it has an app!” was a suitable enough novelty to convince consumers to purchase the toy.
First, let me introduce you to MiP. MiP, which is short for Mobile Inverted Pendulum, is WowWee’s latest innovation in association with the University of California at San Diego’s Coordinated Robots Lab. MiP has unique dual wheel balancing (thanks to that inverted pendulum science!) and is a fully interactive robot. MiP is able to navigate his surroundings while being controlled by hand gestures or through a Bluetooth link to a smart device. MiP also has a personality that is communicated through motion, sounds, and his LED eyes.
MiP’s pendulum allows him to become a balancing robot. In addition to a tray accessory that can be attached, MiP can balance multiple objects while moving or standing still, including another MiP—meaning he can balance his own weight and still continue to move around!
In addition to all these cool features, MiP also has a programmable mode. When in this mode, you can give MiP a variety of hand gesture commands in a row, which it will then fully play out in order. Since it requires no coding, it really is a basic intro to the world of programming for kids, getting them a little bit more involved in now-popular STEM subjects a little earlier. MiP is recommended for kids ages 8 and up, although kids ages 6 or 7 would probably enjoy MiP’s company, too.
Even further on the programming side of robotics is Ozobot, which was launched in January at CES. Ozobot is a new gaming system based on an intelligent robot. Furthermore, Ozobot is the world’s smallest intelligent robot of its kind, and offers a new option for gamers as young as 8. It puts a new twist on meshing together physical and digital play with a robot that operates in both spaces and combines robotics with gaming.
Ozobot follows, recognizes, and reacts to more than 1,000 different digital codes and instructions, and is capable of reading different line and light colors on game boards, paper, and digital smartphone and tablet screens. Different color patterns give the robot different instructions on how to behave. For example, when I got a brief demo at Toy Fair, Ozobot was following a black path on a tablet screen. When it drove over a solid color, Ozobot lit up that color. I was able to draw in different codes to make it do U-turns, change speed, and respond to other commands. The cool thing about Ozobot is that if you drew the same pattern with sharpies on a piece of paper, the robot would respond to the commands in exactly the same way. The Ozobot team has launched four apps thus far, with more to come in the future. Ozobot also includes accessories to customize your own Ozobot.
The booth that made me feel most like I was living in The Jetsons was EZ-Robot’s booth. EZ-Robot uses 3-D printing (specifically Makerbot) to make super cool robots and parts. Check out the video about their company below:
EZ-Robots are assembled with Clip’n’Play Technology called EZ-Bits. These bits can be purchased from EZ-Robot’s store or 3-D printed at home. EZ-Robots are smart, autonomous, and interactive. They have vision-tracking and speech recognition capabilities—all features that are rare in personal robots. Furthermore, when I saw it demoed at Toy Fair, the robots were being controlled with a simple Wii controller. (And it was so easy to control, even I could do it!)
This company allows anyone to build complicated, impressive robots without really having to understand their underlying complexity and technology. The clip technology allows robot pieces to be snapped together easily. You simply choose a body, and then snap on whatever parts you want! Everyone can create their own unique robot. These robots are great for all levels of learning about robotics and programming, but are specifically designed for kids ages 12 and up.
I bet if you asked anyone who knew me well, “techy” would not be one of the words used to describe me. However, I am 100-percent behind this robot trend and was so excited to sit down and talk with different companies to see how their creations worked. We saw some robots on the toy shelves last year—such as Zoomer, RoboMe, and the Lego Mindstorms line—but the category seems to have exploded this year. I’m hoping this trend is not a fleeting one, but perhaps one that will grow and evolve, so we can see many more robotic friends in the future.
For more commentary from Ali, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!