Toys have a smart future

Anushka Deepak

CHENNAI, Feb 28: Multiple cities in India witnessed the gigantic Toy Fair 2019 earlier this month. People flocked to their nearest toy stores to find the latest toy reveals of major brands such as Lego, Mattel, Marvel and DC for the coming year.

But unlike the previous years, toy inventors, distributors and sellers this year tried to aim to increase their sales, not just for 2019, but for the coming five to ten years. With augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)  taking over the world with a click of the finger, people are now realising that the application of immersive technology is not just used in science fiction films or videos but can also enhance the future of toys making them smart.

With platforms such as IBCricket, which brings cricket to the living rooms of people and games such as Pokemon Go, AR and VR are enjoying huge popularity. Apple and Google with their ARKit and ARCore are also taking the future of this tech-savvy generation a notch higher. Toymakers, in the meanwhile, are finding this a perfect way to bridge the gap between physical toys and screen-addicted children.

Experts at the Toy Fair said, “Successfully combining physical playsets with AR is not easy. Both physical toy designers and AR programmers will have to come together to successfully accomplish this vision.”

People from all age groups were present at the Toy Fair 2019 at Hamleys store in Pheonix Market City Mall. This was the first time since the opening of the store that they had an average footfall of around 250 to 300 people at once. From grandparents to little children to the tech-loving youth everyone went bonkers over the sale and new reveals by big brands.

People trying out the new AR and VR toy reveals at Hamleys, Chennai during the Toy Fair 2019

The vision to take AR and VR beyond gaming is also being carried out by a Chennai-based AR, VR, and Mixed Reality and Artificial Intelligence organisation Nutpam 360. They build virtual reality-driven training content for people working in large corporations and sectors like healthcare and education. Its VR simulators train people to not just learn but also get used to machines.

“For a year we were able to work on various 360-degree projects, and then we started using VR for companies,” said Senthil Sarguru, Co-founder of Nutpam.

Virtual reality just got real with Nutpam 360

The founders say it was challenging for them to find the right talent to build the technology, create image recognition, processing the content and regenerating a real world in the virtual world.

However, they too aim to try their hands on contributing to the toy market by developing future smart toys. “It would be amazing if we could innovate something that can enhance the knowledge of children as well as be fun to play with using our technology,” said Karthik Bavanandan, Co-founder of Nutpam.

The Agarwal family bought toys worth Rs 2000 during the 50% off sale

Some of the toys due for launch this year come from big names such as Lego and Mattel. LEGO’s‘Hidden Side’, an eight-set series of spooky locations and possessed vehicles, gives an optimistic view of the AR app as that it extends the physical play by helping children to imagine the haunted world surrounding their sets. A world they can conceptualise and play in once the app is closed.

At the other end of the spectrum, Pictionary Air relies entirely on augmented reality tech for its playing experience: You draw in the air using a light-tracked pen, in front of someone holding a phone or tablet camera. The camera tracks your drawing and projects it onto the screen for everyone else to see, and they guess what you’re drawing.

Pictionary air to launch by year-end | Jeff O’Brien/Krystal DeBord

“Pictionary air was the most loved of all we had to present. It’s a simple system, and it mostly worked very well when we tested it out at the Toy Fair,” said Sunitha S, a customer present at the Toy Fair.

Toy experts at Hamleys said that by 2023, consumers will spend tens of billions of dollars on augmented reality (AR) toys.