|High-tech Toys at Toy Fair|
If I could sum up Toy Fair with one word, it would be high-tech. The making of toys has become a science. As an inventor, I was drawn to the TechnoPLAY exhibition at the Toy Fair, the exhibit hall dedicated to the convergence of technology and play.
The opening seminar at the Toy Fair entitled "Cultures of Invention: Revolutionizing the Toy Industry" was presented by Michael Hawley, Professor of Media Technology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Director of the "Things That Think" Project at MIT's Media Lab. Hawley discussed the world of the most innovative learning toys on the horizon and the astonishing advances in computer-enhanced learning toys, as well as today's kids' use of digital media. High-tech toys were the fastest growing market segments of the toy industry in 2000.
The term "pet owner" took on a completely new meaning at Toy Fair, with the virtual stampede of robotic dogs and cats in the marketplace. The "Robotic Virtual Pets" sub-category of the toy market jumped from $5 million to $159 million in one year. My choice for the best virtual pet at Toy Fair had to be Sony's AIBO ERS-210. Sony claims that AIBO can mimic free will and emotion. I spent an hour playing with an AIBO at the Toy Fair and I guarantee you that it is impossible not to treat AIBO as if it were an intelligent life form. "Good Boy!" AIBO can learn whatever name you give your AIBO. With built-in voice recognition, AIBO can learn up to fifty words and talk back to you in a special AIBO tonal language. You command your pet to follow orders including "take a picture." AIBO has a built in camera. That is something your real life pet cannot do.
My pick of high-tech computer toys has to go to Intel's Intel Play Digital Movie Creator, the latest addition to the Intel Play-PC enhanced line of toys. The Movie Creator is a cool looking digital video camera and movie-making software that allows kids to shoot and make their own movies -- special FXs included. Children can capture up to 2,000 snapshots or 4 minutes of digital video and audio, all downloadable to their computers. The software comes with a library of titles, special effects, transitions and creative sound files. Priced to go at under $100, the toy made its debut at Toy Fair and I would say that Intel has created a winner.
A simpler toy made without any microprocessors was the Terra Tops® invented by Kurt Przybilla. Przybilla was inspired by Buckminster Fuller, the prolific genius best remembered for inventing geodesic domes. Spinning tops have been around for thousands of years. There are hundreds of different designs for tops but they all have one thing in common, a single axis. Tertra Tops have a futuristic patented design and are the first tops to have a multiple axis of spin. The tops are comprised of different combinations of spheres and are some of the longest spinning tops around. "Not only do they stack and spin incredibly well, they also teach the primary structural systems of our universe. People on Earth are taught to think in squares and cubes even though nature does not use 'blocks' to build," says Prybilla, a teacher for the last 11 years. Duncan Toys, the manufacturer of the original yo-yo, will be manufacturing the Tetra Tops.