The “Spielwarenmesse” (German for toy fair) in Nuremberg, which took place 28 January – 2 February was all about toys and entertainment and was packed with more than 75.000 visitors this year. The huge event attracts kids and engineers – yep, that’s right and the explanation is simple: Toys get electrified! Dropping prices for semiconductors and technologies such as NFC, RFID and digital cameras open up new possibilities for game developers and traditional board game manufacturers.
While consoles like the Xbox and Playstation use very sophisticated technology and pack a lot of processing power, electronics have not yet been widely adopted in simple games like playing cards or skateboards. This is about to change as looking through the fair in Nuremberg last week, we discovered a big number of exhibitors offering toys using electronics and communication technology such as RFID to enhance their products.
Ting, an audio pen for kids, stores information from your PC/MAC and is able to read and comment on books, cards and learning toys. The pen uses RFID technology and an integrated speaker to combine, written words, pictures and sound. The device is intended to help kids to learn languages faster and to make the experience more interactive. The company behind the smart pen cooperates with a lot of publishing houses like Cornelsen, arsEdition, Kosmos and more.
Ting Smart (image: Ting Portal)
The German Ravensburger company, the leader in the European jigsaw puzzle market, offers a similar learning system for kids. The so called “tiptoi” is an audio pen which works similar to Ting, by touching symbols and parts of games, books and toys with the tip of the pen. Games for the toy span everything from languages, geography to mathematics.
Cartamundi, a manufacturer of playing cards, is currently working on ultra-thin NFC tags for its card games. In combination with smartphones the technology offers the opportunity to develop games, which can be played via internet against other players using NFC-cards and to add new features to card games by using the NCF-enabled devices like tablets.
Another use case for tablets are games which use QR codes and the device camera to communicate. This an very cost-efficient and easy to implement way to use technologies in toys as there is no hardware knowledge necessary.
Along with smaller toys using communication technology, there are also some exciting news for teenagers as companies such as bbizz offer an extended range of skateboards which are driven via electric motors and can reach up to 32 km/h! To control the speed the skater holds a remote control in his hand. The steering works similar to normal skateboards by shifting your weight towards the direction you want to go.
Skatey 900 (image: bbizz)
Probably all of us remember the cool Carrera racetracks. Using 2.4GHz wireless technology the latest remote controls for the indoor racing game enables players to move around the track for better control of the cars. Frequency hopping provides uninterrupted, frequency-independent operation of up to 6 cars at the same time.
It is exciting to see the adaption of semiconductor technology in the toy industry. In this early stage many manufacturers are still unfamiliar with electronics and have to use of-the-shelf solutions from China. With increasing numbers of toys which are based on technology this trend will probably stop. Especially old, traditional companies such as Ravensburger will most likely try to develop and produce less toys in China. Talking to some of the exhibitors there was an agreement that being able to design and build own electronic applications for toys will be a prerequisite for individual and unique toys as well as success in the long run.
featured image: AlexSchelbert.de / Spielwarenmesse eG