These new tech toys made me feel like a kid again
Technology has changed how kids play by fusing the digital and physical
Remember Furby? This animatronic furry creature was one of the first popular tech-infused toys. The fuzzy animal, resembling Mogwai from the movie Gremlins, would nod, blink and speak in a weird language that somehow seemed to convince kids it was talking to them.
Furby came out over twenty years ago. It’s safe to say that toys have evolved a lot since then.
This week, Abacus visited the Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair -- the largest toy expo in Asia and the second largest in the world -- to check out the latest in toy tech. And, quite expectedly, the visit immediately turned this serious 30-something journalist into a 10 year old that needs to be dragged out of the playground.
Technology is increasingly merging the physical with the digital, and toys are just one element of this. It can be through remote-controlled battle drones. Or cutesy robots that react to touch with making giggly noises. Or it could be an augmented reality crossbow.
Dragon Bow, made by Hong Kong-based Playable Creation, has sensors on each side of the bow, connected to a smartphone mounted on the crossbow via Bluetooth. This enables you to shoot dragons flying around on the phone’s screen by aiming with this real (well, toy) crossbow.
Of course, combining tech and kids hasn’t been without controversy. For one thing, most experts agree that small children should have limited screen time. Many have also questioned whether the smart Furby-like toys equipped with voice recognition capabilities can match the benefits of simple human interaction. Others have pointed out that various connected devices like toys and kiddie smart watches can put a child in danger of private data leaks.
But for many parents, the possibility of educating kids through play is a tempting one. Not long ago, educators were highlighting the need to teach kids STEM subjects. Now, the number of topics has widened, turning it into STREAM: Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Arts, and Math.
A sizable number of exhibitors at the fair offered so-called STREAM toys. And many toy makers believe that they can help kids understand the magic behind tech.
According to Pearl Tam from Hong Kong company Edu-Science, coding games are another hot trend. Their latest product has kids use simple plastic blocks to write out commands for its robot, CHR1S.
“It’s not just for developing skills, it’s also for preparing them for future jobs,” said Tam, adding that coding games can help develop logical thinking.
That coding is popular was also apparent at the fair, with dozens of companies offering some type of coding game -- including one with robotic snails, of all things.
It seems that many parents are hoping their kids will go into tech. Maybe they’re even hoping to turn out to be coders, like this one who hacked a Furby to recite Argentinian writer Jorge Louis Borges.
Best of all? It’s called Borgy.