In this post, we’re going to talk about the other IoT, Internet of Toys. If you’re at Toys’ R us or any mega toys store, you’ll be spoiled for choice at the enormous range of toys that you can shop for a child (or for yourself). In 2015, toy industry sales are up 7 percent overall (January-September 2015), across the 11 global markets tracked by NPD (Global toy market size USD 84.6B in 2012) despite the tough economic climate globally. Along with Lego blocks, remote control cars, dolls etc. , there’s emerging “smart” toys that can linked to your smart phones & tablets & embedded with sensors that is supposed to make it more fun to play with. Some of the interesting ones includes,
- Mind reading toys – “Star Wars: Force Trainer II” , an interesting toy that has a bluetooth sensor that can read alpha & beta waves from your brain to measure concentration & translate it to actions! The actions are projected as “holograms” using a tablet on top of a pyramid Plexiglas structure. Mind controlling toys are not new & started to come out since 2009. Another cool toy using the same technology (basically an ASIC that has the built-in instrumentation to read EEG signals) & integrating drone technology to create “Puzzlebox Orbit” , an open-sourced educational toy that enables you to control a flying drone using your mind.
2. Augmented Reality – Way before holo-lens & emergence of apps that let’s you experience augmented reality, there’s already an abundance of toys that apply AR. Crayola Color Alive is basically a coloring book that comes with a companion app that enables you to view a finished color page through a tablet/smartphone & watch your creation comes to “live” . Another toy is Lego Fusion, that has a companion app that will capture & digitize your Lego creations into in virtual version that can be placed in an interactive 3D environment.
3. Robotics Nowadays, you can can easily create your own robots & also program them to do your bidding without breaking the bank. One of the most well-known platforms are the Lego Mindstorms series, originally created at MIT Media Labs in 1994. It comes with a programmable brick, graphical programming language (but you can also program it in other common languages of your choice) & sensor modules to detect light, distance, sound, movements etc. & also servo motors – all the basic building components for any robots.
The latest Mindstorm is the EV3 (4th Generation) with a more powerful processor powerful ARM9 CPU running Linux @300MHz & , USB connector and Micro SD slot (up to 32GB) & ability to control through a smartphone & program wirelessly using a tablet. The platform provides a very low-cost alternative to create very advanced robots. One such example is a fully autonomous “Rubik’s” cube solving robot below.
Another similar robotics inventions platform, is RERO which comes with larger motors & sensor modules & it’s own programming IDE. It also enables you to interface over bluetooth to smart devices.
4. IoT toys Basically, Mindstorms is also considered an IoT creation platform, but with a focus on robotics. Littlebits are a line of toys whose tagline is to “put the power of electronics in the
hands of everyone, and to break down complex technologies so that anyone can build, prototype, and invent.” The kit comes with electronic modules(known as bits) that easily snaps together to form a functioning circuit which anybody (or kid) can do without a soldering iron or EE background. Their “IoT/Smart Home” kit , has a cloud enabled bit, which acts as a gateway for the sensor bits to send data to the cloud. If you want to even dive deeper into electronics & the theory behind it, we have the IQube, a smart toy that actually teaches you electronics. Similar to Littlebits, it has kits made up of modules/cubes that snaps together. A companion app running on smart devices teaches & guides you into creating different circuits & exercises , not unlike in the real-world.
Last, there’s Brixo, integrating the sensors & micro-controller into the size of a regular lego bricks itself along with special chrome plated blocks to create circuit paths for the components.
There are a lot more examples of IoT toys, so they’ll be no shortage of IoT talents in the future!
5. Maker platform/Toys? With open-sourced hardware & software like Arduino(or Genuino) & Raspberry Pi , hopefully kids who are playing with lego mindstorms & other IoT toys, will eventually go into these low cost platforms that are more flexible but a bit more complicated, needing more patience to use. Recently, BBC in the UK, launced the MicroBit – a handheld, fully programmable computer being given free to every Year 7 or equivalent child across the UK. It’s 70 times smaller and 18 times faster than the original BBC Micro computers used in schools in the early 1980s. Following open source initiatives, the MicroBit uses the same components & technology in IoT & wearables.
Play is a child’s work & toys are his/her tools of the trade. With toys like these, in the near future, there’s no denying that future IoT products are already being cultivated in the minds of our children. these toys will provide exposure to platforms that will develop their skills for programming IoT applications, developing hardware & also rapid prototyping for the next great IoT ideas. Playing with these toys are no longer regarded as “child’s play”? Well, as long as kids are having fun (along with adults) playtime should be encouraged. Let’s play well ! ( “Lego” comes from the Danish phrase leg godt, or “play well”)