The Future of Entertainment series by iQ by Intel and PSFK Labs is highlighting the latest in entertainment innovation. Over the course of 10 weeks at iq.intel.com, we are showcasing new products, services and technologies, exploring the changing face of how we consume, share and create content and getting reactions from Intel experts.
The way children play and imagine has changed irrevocably in the past 20 years with the advent of digital technologies that are as intuitive and innate as kicking a soccer ball or skipping a rope. Swiping and tapping touchscreens are quickly becoming the new normal, and developers and toymakers are taking note, embracing the next generation of tech-savvy kids with toys that combine the physical and the digital in exciting ways. This new wave of toys are being designed with multiple layers of interactivity to capture the imagination of children of all ages, pointing to a trend we are calling Cross World Play.
Video games were the first wave of digital technology to grab the attention of children. A Pew Report shows that gaming is practically universal amongst teens, with 97% of American kids aged 12 to 17 playing on average an hour of video games a day on computers, consoles and smartphones. When adults wax nostalgic about their childhood, they often blame video games and TV for ruining the imagination of kids today, but they might think twice when they check out Tek Recon, which combines online gaming with real-life play to create a new interactive experience. Imagine if you combined Halowith a classic 1990s NERF gun – then you’d have something along the lines of Tek Recon, a first person shooter, with a toy weapon.
The recently funded startup consists of two toy blasters that come with reusable soft rounds and a smartphone mount, which provides the guns with a live heads-up display. When the blasters are equipped with a smartphone, the participants simply open the app and can remotely play a shooter game with a limitless number of people. The app allows the user to feel as if they are within a video game whilst using a physical gun to shoot. It lets players see how much ammo they have left, gives access to different modes of vision, such as night vision or heat sensors, and supplies a radar to locate enemies. The game combines the physical play of a game of tag with the social and visual elements of an online video game.
Tek Recon takes a classic toy that has appealed to kids for years, and adds an element of augmented reality to create a virtual experience that will keep them engaged. Uboolyis a similar concept, taking a classic children’s toy – a stuffed animal – and bringing it to life with technology. Ubooly, an orange bear-like plush toy, is designed to house an iPhone with the screen acting as the creature’s face. When the Ubooly ‘wakes up,’ it speaks to the child in a welcoming, warm voice – a more human sounding Siri, asking the child what they want to do or offering suggestions for fun activities like choose-your-own-adventure stories, songs or pretend play scenarios.
The Ubooly also learns the child’s play patterns and favorite activities over time, customizing suggestions to their preferences. Co-founder Carly Glodge told Mashable that she sees the Ubooly as “edu-tainment”, explaining, “What we really wanted to do was make a smart toy. We realized there's a lot of great technology out there and not a lot of toys utilizing that." The toy moves beyond the touchscreen, by putting it into a fuzzy, loveable critter, creating a personal relationship between child and technology, so that they engage with the content longer than they might otherwise.
In an article for TIME, tech correspondent Matt Peckham discusses the possibilities of the iPad as the future of toys. “The biggest upside of tablet-toys probably lies in their ability to bring educational structure and context to “pure play” scenarios,” he writes. “They’re not replacements for toy-based free-play or ‘pure imagination,’ but ways of steering or directing the experience.” A concept app created for LEGO seeks to blend the digital capabilities of the tablet with a child’s imagination to create a unique storytelling experience.
The app, LEGO Story Builder, created by a team from the Miami Ad School, guides a child when building a Lego structure, and then brings that physical structure into an augmented reality world. In the app, the toy building is recognized as an AR code, and the creation is given a greater context, coming to life, with animations and drawings to enrich the experience. More than that, the app suggests ways to modify the real life toy models, which alters the story within the app as well. There are endless permutations to the experience and the app uses the digital capabilities of a smart device to encourage traditional tactile play.
In a tech-centric society where children grow up alongside interactive screens and digital experiences, traditional free-play is being enhanced with the addition of technology to offer new possibilities. Throughout the week iQ and PSFK Labs will be expanding upon the Cross World Play trend to see the evolution of toys that are capturing the imaginations of kids everywhere.
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