I’d been meaning to post a link to a toy that had been covered at CES for a while now, but it was Crunchgear covering Takara Tomy’s bonkers haptic, AR-infused kid’s fishing rod – the ‘Virtual Master Real’ (PDF) this morning that got me thinking again.
The toy unveiled at CES was Mattel’s new addition to it’s Hot Wheels racers. There’s a little VGA camera in there – capable of 30 and 60fps – a screen in it’s belly, a USB connection and enough onboard memory to store up to 12 minutes of video. In a toy car. Not content with merely capturing video, when it ships later this year it’ll also come with bespoke editing software. I haven’t been this excited since the Christmas when I got a pair of wrist walkie-talkies (and then refused to let anyone use them).
Tomy’s foray into the heady world of simulated fishing is a dinky rod with a LCD screen that overlays fish onto a video feed of your surroundings. Swing the device to cast – a hard swing will cast further – and wait for a bite, indicated by the reel vibrating. The line offers resistance depending on the size of the catch and if you’re really struggling, you can activate the sonar to see where there are fish to be found.
What strikes me isn’t that they’re ‘odd’ (they’re certainly a lot less creepy than a Barbie doll with an embedded camera) but that there aren’t more examples of so-called ‘popular’ toy brands augmenting their products with simplified versions of ubiquitous technology. That’s not to say that these aren’t sophisticated in themselves – they are – but they’re not specced and feature-rich like some of the available tech (helmet-mounted cams, for example) that they’re derived from. They’re cheap(ish), fun and true to their form; designed to supplement play, rather than being the action of play in themselves.
Perhaps this is in no small part due to the fact that this ubiquitous tech is just that – it’s prevalent. And it’s extremely desirable. Toy developer’s are surely wise to this, for example, Parrot’s AR drone lets a third party device do all computational heavy lifting, while Lego has a stack of console games. According to Duracell’s annual Toy Report, this perceived shift is very real; at the end of 2010, their claim was that the top of kids’ Xmas lists was biased towards Apple, Playstation and XBox. Why have an imitation of a device when you can have the real thing, particularly if that device can work in parallel with something that’s more obviously ‘toy-like’?