NEW YORK — Augmented reality (AR) continues to be incorporated into a large number of toys and games targeted at kids, but interest in standard virtual reality (VR) requiring headsets seems to be on the decline among toy makers, according to interviews the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) conducted at the annual American International Toy Fair Feb. 17-20.
Interest in artificial intelligence (AI), however, seems to be on the rise among companies making toys.
The incorporation of AR, VR and other technologies into toys was included by the Toy Industry Association (TIA) in its list of the top toy trends for 2017 that were announced at last year’s show. And TIA announced Feb. 18 at Toy Fair that it “expects to see more affordable and user-friendly virtual and augmented reality toys, interactive and buildable robots with new features” this year.
While the AR part of that prediction was underscored by our conversations with several Toy Fair exhibitors, the VR portion of the forecast was cast into some doubt by what most of the exhibitors we interviewed said.
In addition, one of the companies fielding VR products at the show last year – Seedling – wasn’t among the exhibitors this time. Uncle Milton, meanwhile, didn’t announce any new VR products at the show this year after touting several such items there in 2017.
The main story at Pai Technology’s Toy Fair booth this time was Augie, a $199.99 coding robot for kids, equipped with AR technology, that was developed to introduce kids to computer coding language, according to the company. The robot also was designed to engage kids’ imagination and creativity while helping them to improve their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, Pai said. Augie works in conjunction with an Android and iOS app.
Pai showed a prototype version of a coding robot at Toy Fair last year, but a finalized version of Augie was shown for the first time at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, Sherry Wu, the company’s global business strategy director, told MESA Feb. 17.
It’s already being sold by Amazon and 32 Barnes & Noble stores, she told us. Augie is also being sold at Barnesandnoble.com.
Pai is in talks with additional U.S. retailers to widen its availability, Wu said.
Also touted by Pai at Toy Fair was Circuit Conductor, a $69.99 educational kit, also featuring AR, that teaches kids about electricity, currents and magnets.
The company, which opened a Santa Monica, California, office in 2016, has positioned itself as a provider of AR STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) experiences. STEAM (often STEM, minus the art) has been a dominant theme at Toy Fair in recent years and that trend continued for 2018.