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October 1, 2019
Today’s kids expect smart tech in their toys. Bluetooth makes it easy to bring apps and gadgets together, creating new opportunities for creative play.
Toy design has evolved rapidly over the last several decades, keeping pace with the technological innovations in consumer products as a whole. While some kids still play with hula hoops and dolls, more and more are clamoring for the latest smart toys. In fact, according to Hexa Research, the global smart toys market is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 15.5 percent, and could be worth nearly $24.7 billion by 2025.
While a variety of smart toys on the market offer app integration, voice and/or image recognition, and/or RFID functionality, Bluetooth holds nearly unmatched potential for toy design, as it enables seamless close-range connection and control between toys and smartphone apps, as well as integration with other Bluetooth devices. Just as Bluetooth connectivity has become a stalwart of gadgets designed for full-grown consumers, it has the potential to serve as the foundation of the next generation of interactive children’s toys. Here are three examples of how toy manufacturers are already using Bluetooth to create highly engaging toys:
This toy is a great example of how a simple product can be enhanced by being paired with a Bluetooth-enabled app. Hasbro’s lightsaber is a smart technological upgrade to an old favorite, making it an ideal way for a new generation to discover one of the most iconic props of the Star Wars series.
This device connects to a smartphone app via Bluetooth, enabling kids to learn to wield their lightsabers like “real” Jedis. Through the app, kids receive step-by-step instructions for imitating poses and attack styles of characters new (Kylo Ren) and old (Yoda). Kids can even change the color of their lightsaber from blue to green to red depending on the character they’re embodying.
The toy’s Bluetooth app uses motion tracking to record and analyze a user’s actions. Using this information, the toy issues audio feedback to facilitate real-time “training,” and scores performance as kids take on various challenges. Kids can play solo (not Han, unfortunately) to level up and unlock additional characters, or they can duel with friends by connecting two lightsabers to one app that will track points throughout the battle.
Needless to say, this device is quite the upgrade over the classic broom handle lightsaber. It takes kids’ Jedi fantasies to the next level, teaching them their heros’ most awe-inspiring moves and leveraging a Bluetooth connection to create a more immersive and rewarding experience.
Since Bluetooth is a reliable way to connect devices to accompanying apps, it has become a central feature of the recent wave of toys designed to help kids learn to code. An upgrade over its previous SPRK+ model, Sphero’s BOLT is a sphere-shaped, translucent robot toy optimized for educational fun.
The robot itself is fairly hands-off — the idea here is to use the Sphero Edu mobile app to code the robot’s movements. Within the app, kids can explore three levels of programming. Younger kids can simply draw on a screen, then choose speed and LED color to control their BOLT’s actions. Older kids can use prebuilt modules or line coding to make their robot move, change colors, play sounds, and more.
This close control over the robot’s behavior makes for a highly engaging play experience. The sphere’s internal LED matrix allows for visual feedback, and programming its sensors makes it more interactive — kids can program their BOLT to veer away from roadblocks or shy away from bright lights. The BOLT can even talk to other nearby BOLTS via Bluetooth, broadcasting signals to make nearby robots execute various commands. This is a great example of how Bluetooth can empower kids to learn while they play, giving them the opportunity to see the results of their actions on a toy’s behavior in real time.
The JIMU Robot Kit is another example of why Bluetooth is an excellent choice for educational robot toy design. UBTECH Robotics is a China-based company that offers a range of models in its JIMU line, all of which are appropriate for kids eight and up.
The robot connects to a user’s smartphone via a Bluetooth-enabled app. Users then follow step-by-step instructions on the JIMU Robot App to program the robot’s actions. Younger kids will enjoy using the intuitive “Pose, Record, Play” system to control their robot. Older kids may get more out of Blockly coding, which enables them to create both simple and complex sequences that are translated into robotic action over Bluetooth.
The JIMU robot models include a unicorn, a construction vehicle, and an exploratory robot — and even include parts for kids to build their own creations. It’s easy to forget that a dancing elephant robot is controlled via a simple but powerful Bluetooth connection, but this line of devices underscores the real fun that can be had with the most sophisticated smart toys.
As illustrated above, incorporating Bluetooth capabilities into toys can result in more engaging, enjoyable, and educational play experiences. That said, as is the case any time digital technology is in play, manufacturers of tech toys must take certain precautionary measures to ensure their devices — and the children who use them — remain safe and secure.
In the U.S., toy manufacturers must comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA). This regulation dictates that toys shouldn’t collect, track, or share any data that is personally identifiable. To ensure their smart toys comply with COPPA and other similar regulations, toy manufacturers should consider implementing password protections and encrypting sensitive data, as is best practice with any Bluetooth device. Following these recommendations may require more thoughtful toy design, but will prevent issues down the road.
But even within these regulatory boundaries, there are plenty of creative, exciting ways to design toys equipped with Bluetooth functionality — and as the world becomes increasingly digitized, the demand for these features will only climb. Toy companies aiming to compete with video games and apps for kids’ attention need to integrate the best of both the physical and digital worlds into their products. And, as the above examples demonstrate, when done right, Bluetooth-enabled toys can inspire imaginative and highly creative play — which, at the end of the day, is what toys have always been about.