The American toy industry is worth more than $22 billion annually, and virtually every sub-segment is ripe for IoT innovation. The demand for smart toys is there, thanks to a combination of tech savvy households, Hollywood creations, youth consumer trends, and the prevalence of smart appliances and devices (Amazon Echo). The current generation of children is accustomed to—and expects—‘intelligent’ playthings. This shift in expectations has caused a steep decline in some traditional toys (such as model trains), and forced others (such as dolls) to adapt. The good news is this paradigm shift isn’t simply tech for tech’s sake—smart toys offer significant benefits beyond being, well, toys. And that can enhance your bottom line.
In 1985, a toy company called Worlds of Wonder introduced an interactive, animatronic bear named Teddy Ruxpin that featured two prerecorded cassettes as its ‘brain’. It became a monstrous hit. The bear’s selling points (at least to parents) were that it could both entertain and educate. Today’s Teddy Ruxpin equivalents, such as the Smart Toy line from Fisher Price, have taken interactivity to a whole new level. These IoT-enabled toys can duplicate many real-life human attributes, including remembering previous conversations, recognizing objects and drawings, and even creating unique stories in real-time based on collected data from the internet and from time spent playing with the child. Parents can pre-program the toys via an app to focus on certain developmental areas depending on the child’s needs, including teaching basics such as proper hygiene or room cleanliness. Or simply let the toy ‘do its thing’ and let the children explore on their own.
A healthy option
One of the biggest complaints about electronic toys (and games) is that they encourage a sedentary lifestyle for children, a major concern with rising childhood obesity rates. Innovative IoT companies have stepped up to that challenge, creating interactive products that promote a healthy playtime. Here are some examples:
- Using a smart-enabled projector, an IoT-enabled device can turn a floor or lawn into an interactive playground with games that encourage physical activity.
- Employing a combination of sensors and virtual reality glasses, children literally can ‘walk’ historic sites around the world or try to find their friends in an advanced world of hide and seek.
- Applications, such as Pokemon Go, encourage further outdoor adventures, as well as interaction with new children and others outside their home ‘world’.
- IoT also can enhance traditional sports thanks to sensors that collect and analyze data as the child participates, thereby helping to improve motor skills and proper body mechanics (to avoid potential injuries).
The brains of the operation
One huge advantage that IoT-enabled devices offer the marketplace is their ability to accelerate brain and social skills development through interactive learning, especially for those with disabilities, such as autism or dyslexia. Smart technology can be applied to any common toy type—from blocks to puzzles to cars—and programmed with various criteria, such as a focus on single skill set. Children play with the toy as normal, but the application guides (and rewards) various behaviors depending on goals. The toy also ‘learns’ as it gathers data, altering its own interactions to best meet the child’s method of play and learning.
Research has shown children with learning disabilities (including poor social skills) often open up more to an interactive toy versus an adult human, and that can accelerate learning. In fact, IoT-enabled robots like Kaspar and Buddy have proven to dramatically improve learning progress in children with autism as they interact exactly how the child wants to relate to them. Smart toys also can detect potential learning disabilities early on, before they become major issues. Sensors, cameras, and other devices can detect extremely subtle behavioral clues that parents/teachers/medical professionals might otherwise miss.
Of course, there are significant privacy-associated issues that must be taken into account when deploying IoT-based toys. Consumer backlash and expensive lawsuits can cripple a company overnight if a toy product does ‘more’ than it’s supposed to do.
Despite these concerns, the IoT toy market offers significant opportunities in many different niches, something that can’t be said about every industry. All it takes is a little innovation and a lot of imagination.
For more information on this and other IoT technologies, Please contact Aeris.