From Teddy Bears to Tech

It’s no mystery to those of us enmeshed in the mom space: Moms have long been the first adopters when it comes to technology, particularly the kind that helps them manage their families’ lives.

But how will they react to the growing array of tech-based toys for their kids? Will they embrace them, too, or fight the transition from “real” play – teddy bears that simply hug, blocks that simply stack — to the more virtual kind, or a combination of the two? Will they be as ready to accept these toys — which are often pricier than more traditional options — as the tech world is to promote them, or will they question whether the “added value” is the best choice for their children?

The sophistication of such toys has been leaping forward. Elemental Path’s CogniToys “Dino” is a wireless connected dinosaur that uses IBM’s Watson technology, a cognitive computing system, to initiate and maintain interactive dialogues and play education games with kids. Wi-Fi enabled, and using an app to connect to the internet, it employs speech recognition, can answer all kinds of questions, tell jokes and stories, and also remember what users say. The company positions it as a way to revolutionize children’s education.

Also Wi-Fi enabled, Mattel’s Hello Barbie, launching this fall, will analyze a child’s speech and produce relevant responses. The doll is expected to have a vocabulary of thousands of words and the ability to talk for hours without repeating herself.

Google, meanwhile, recently filed a patent for toys that are described as being able to listen for someone, turn a head to make “eye contact,” hear what they say and respond with pre-recorded phrases.

And now, of course, there is Disney Playmation, which, according to its web site, is “the next step in the evolution of play, where digital gets physical and imagination becomes real.”

Playmation utilizes a system of toys, wearables, wireless technology and motion sensors to inspire kids to create a unique experience, as they become the hero or heroine of Disney stories.

An “Avenger”- themed starter pack includes a red IronMan “repulsor glove” to wear and four smart toys including two action figures. Combined, these elements lead players on a physically active (run! duck! dodge! jump!) mission to destroy villains, while a related app provides access to additional assignments and powers.

Just as intriguing as the launch itself is the fact that The Walt Disney Company recently announced the restructuring of its Consumer Products and Interactive divisions, to share technological expertise and maximize opportunities for delivering interactive consumer experiences and products.

These are but a few of the toys that are ingeniously combining the real and virtual worlds. Big brand names will certainly have an edge in helping to create demand, while smaller companies will need to clearly demonstrate to moms that tech-enhanced toys bring real value to kids, whether by inspiring creative play, stimulating physical interaction or teaching new skills.