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Toying with tech

Worth £3.3billion, the toy market is thriving; and with STEM being the buzzword at this year’s Toy Fair, it’s one to watch.

This growing trend can be attributed to the new school curriculum that now incorporates coding, according to a number of exhibitors. "Teacher’s skillsets aren’t at a point yet where they can pick up a robot and design a lesson around it. They need support," said Binary Bots’ Head of Business Development Tim Hill.

Binary Bots’ ‘Cardboard to Code’ kit is designed to provide basic knowledge of inputs, outputs and how the code interacts with a real-life object. The products were developed around teacher and child feedback, according to Hill, and based on something he describes as ‘integrated and engaged learning’. Coding in school is usually screen-based, he noted, yet the enjoyment and benefits, i.e. retention, children reap when they can see the actual physical reactions of their work is a far more effective teaching technique.

"Approximately 70% of attention is lost with didactic teaching. If you introduce interactive learning, you’ll capture about 90% of class’ attention." He highlighted the Binary Bot Flat Pack Robot set as a prime example – a toy where the child builds the robot, adds the components, and then codes it in order to bring it to life.

Great Gizmos also identified STEM as driving demand, offering coding kits like Code A Maze which includes a robot, that poses a challenge (e.g. get from point a to b), a mat on which the robot travels, and a set of cards with arrows on. Once a challenge has been set, the child programmes the robot’s route by placing the appropriate (direction) cards against the mat.

According to Judith Dayus, MD of Great Gizmos, this will help children to start thinking about what steps are required to move a robot in a certain direction – skills that can be transferred to coding.

Clementoni showcased a similar toy within its ‘Coding Lab’ range, comprising of ‘PetBits’, ‘Mind Designer’, and ‘RoboMaker’. The latter offers the opportunity to build and code 5 different robots of increasing complexity. The most intricate, ‘X5-Droid’ can pick up objects and sort them according to colour.

Despite coding being a clear objective for many of these toys, it is apparent that the toy sector is also influenced heavily by the technology trends emerging in everyday consumables. For example, wearable devices and augmented reality (AR).

Tech Will Save Us leverages the popularity of such technology with its ‘Creative Coder’, a device that lets children make their own wearable device through manipulation of the accelerometer and LED lights.

While TrendsUK’s stand featured a range of AR-based technology, including its V8 engine kit. In this pack users are provided with the tools to not just build a working motor, but have the opportunity to extend learning with a complementary app that augments the engine through a phone. This means the user can see how the engine works from different angles, pull layers away and read about each component.

"AR is becoming a huge market in the toy industry since phones and tablets have become a bigger part of children’s lives," confirmed Graham Spark, Sales Director at TrendsUK. "It increases the learning opportunity more because researching about the components themselves is difficult. We’re making it accessible and fun."

While Oliver Claxton, EMEA Sales for Tech Will Save Us, noted that as a result of increased mobile device usage, it is vital for toy firms to encourage positive screen time. He added that with no obvious "peak" in sight the toy sector is set to see further strong growth. "Coding will become the new language. The only limitation for the toy industry right now is the price point," he admits. "We’ll never have the most up to date technology in toys. But as tech evolves, the price of integrating it will become cheaper."

Bethan Grylls

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