Filtering by Category: toy

Wireless plush toys

The latest issue of Metropolis has a piece about interactive toys by Ricci Shryock. It presents some innovative examples, based on a context-aware model ("wireless plush toy design"):

"My Beating Heart. The plush, $120 toy uses microchip technology to mimic a human heartbeat. Gitman says users feel as if they are hugging a pet or a loved one when they hug the toy, and it soothes their heartbeats to a meditative state. (...) the Needies plush doll as a great example of the interactive trend. The “Needies” are large plush dolls that can sense when another doll is getting some love. The unattended doll will then sing and call out for the attention it craves."

(Picture is: the My Beating Heart project and a Needie, courtesy of Metropolis Mag.)

But what is interesting is:

"Gitman believes designer toys have oversaturated the market and are ready for updates that add interactive features to spice up the consumer’s options. (...) But Blum adds the trick is to develop the function of the toy along the same lines as the toy’s artistic appearance— “To market it as a whole, we have to present these as pieces of art rather than just toys, and these functions should be the kind of thing that can develop tangential with that design.”"

Why do I blog this? interactive toys is an intriguing field to watch with regards to ubiquitous computing. It's somehow not connected in the general discourse but there are some good relations plus chances that some toys would be more interesting than intelligent fridges. Besides, toys can be seen a trojan horse for certain technologies.

Webkinz: real and virtual dog

Judging from the press release, Webkinz is a curious game that connect first life and second life environment (take 2nd life as a general world referring to a virtual world):

Webkinz are a line of stuffed animals that come with a secret code allowing the purchaser to enter into an online fantasy world for a one-year period starring that pet. (...) Once registered, this cuddly interactive pet becomes a tangible companion for playtime, but on the computer screen a virtual image of that exact Webkinz pet appears in a room, along with a health/happiness/hunger meter. An initial $2,000 in Kinzcash (Webkinz imaginary cash) is provided to purchase furnishings for the pet´s room, buy clothes for the pet, provide the pet with toys, and to select from a variety of foods for the pet. In order to earn more Kinzcash, the owner can go to "Quizzy´s Question Corner" to earn more Kinzcash by answering age-appropriate educational quizzes. Also featured is a tournament arena of computer games and weekly contests. "Adopting" more pets equates to more playmates both on-line and off-line. The animals can even talk to each other, or the owner´s pet can speak with a friend´s pet.

Why do I blog this? this is another occurrence of a device that let people have an object with a virtual counterpart. The difference with other projects such as the v-migo is that the tangible interaction with the artifacts are not detected or used. It's interesting anyway because it's based on a toy ID that connects the object to a virtual world. So what about a DIY version? like crafting your own stuffed pets, using Thinglink as an alternative to the webkinz #### and... mmmh this needs to be hooked to any virtual world that would let people do so.

Excerpts of Toshio Iwai's interview

Pixelsurgeon features a nice interview of Toshio Iwai. A japanese media artist, building electronic/physical instruments (and designing games such as Elektroplankton), Iwai gives some hints about his activity: the importance of tangibility, the need for visual feedthrough, a need to design for play and everyone:

In projects like Tenori-On, how important is the physical interface - the thing you touch and hold? How does it affect the act of making music?

Any instruments are characterised by their physical interface, such as the key of a piano or the bow of a violin. And these physical interfaces give important direction to the way they are played and the sound itself. However, as long as electric instruments are concerned, this aspect is not emphasised very much. In the Tenori-On project, we started from thinking what is the reasonable interface for an electric instrument or digital instrument. (...) For the digital instrument, interface, exterior design, software, sound and so on are independent each other. I am examining the way all of them naturally unite, just like in the violin. (...) The design of the visual interface is very important. The flow of time is not visible and very difficult to handle, but by expressing it visually it can be understood and handled by everybody. Moreover, music can give different impressions when it is expressed visually. (...) Since it became possible to make sound electrically or electronically, the synthesizing of sound has been separated from the visual world. However with the senses we are borne with, we think it is more natural to experience sound and vision at the same time. (...) As everybody wants to touch instruments or toys which he or she hasn’t seen before, when I design something, I am trying to create it so that it is very attractive at first sight. And when players touch it, it can be instinctively understood and they can be pulled into it very strongly and start trying to create their own designs in many different ways.

Why do I blog this? because of current research about tangible interfaces I am interested in Iwai's work; which I found great. Elektroplankton is fantastic (easy to handle and I discover new features everytime I play). What he is describing is very intriguing: how to create new musical instruments (new objects then) with simple affordances, linking sound and visual patterns to engage people in playful activities.

See also his blog about tenori-on, a brand new musical instrument / musical interface for the 21st century which I have been developing under the collaboration with YAMAHA Corp.

Welcome nabaztag

I recently bought a Nabaztag, I find it quite nice with its glowing lights and very simple design. What I appreciated:

  • extra easy set-up (no pb with the wifi)
  • a very calm ambient display
  • the package is quite empy but the website is full of information with informative pdf files (like color meaning, usage situations...)
  • the API is available so that people can create their own services
  • there is already a lively community of users, tinkerers
  • at first I was disappointed that the nabaztag was more a recipient of messages (showed through light, sounds and ear movements) but it seems that it can perceive certain inputs (like if you move its ear, it can send a message to the server).

What I found less good:

  • even though it's their business model, I am reluctant to pay for messages services and subscriptions
  • to me, there should be more emphasis on the openness of the device (more than the API) and I miss a social software dimension on the Nabaztag website. Chris has already used Ning to create a Nabaztag social platform.
  • the pictures on the box and on the website are quite weird, a large majority of people do not have a so cold home with empty tables... (of course the targeted group may have this but...). For me, Nabaztag is in a more messy environment: my office at home:

mynabaztagWhy do I blog this? The object is interesting to me because it's not smart, it's a wireless-linked device that allows basic communication and interaction through light, sounds and ear movements. Currently, this guy can only interact with: my computer (through the company's server) and cell phones. That's a cool feature: you can send SMS to your and your friends' rabbits.What is good is that it's a first step in the world of communicating artifacts. I feel like being more interested by this sort of device than by the locomotion of an AIBO (even though I am very curious of the AIBO communication and interaction practices, especially the blog thing).

Ok, now let's take some time to understand the API.

As a user experience researcher, I am very intrigued by possible user interactions with nabaztag; currently there are more outputs than inputs but using the ear could be a good way to interact with it (and consequently with other rabbits). Of course I would have be happy of having proximity-detections of objects and people in the vicinity but I guess it's a matter of time (next version of the rabbit).

More about it later.

Mattel+IDI workshop about new play experiences

Via Putting People First, Play Experiences for the Next Generation is a workshop that has been led by Mattel and the Interaction Design Institute at Ivrea.

"Play is a critical and healthy part of growing up and remaining balanced during adulthood. But there are many changes in play today that provoke thinking about the next generation of play in a different way. Changes like the prevalence of technology based play through computers, game consoles and cell phones. Changes like the time compression most kids and families are dealing with in the developed world and the way kids seem to be growing up faster. Changes like the degree that parents and kids being bombarded with adverts and rich visual media. With these and other issues the nature of the next generation of play and of how to attract the attention of adults and children is already changing fast."

The website is very well-documented with things like case studies (check "From user research to experience design A case study: robot toys for 4-5 years old | LEGO !).

Most of the projects can be found here. My favorite one is certainly robosquad by David Mellis and James Tichenor (yes it's close to a blogject but it does not blog, the good thing is that it interacts with other robots):

Robo-Squad SND is a series of modular robots which can be remote-controlled or operated autonomously. The basic package contains a full unit, consisting of three parts: the vehicle or locomotive element, the character, and accessories. (...) Imagine a play experience where the toys in a child's room are alive: moving, walking, talking. At one moment the child is one of the actors in the toys' stories and the next the child is above the toys, changing their relationships and actions. Robo-Squad SND makes this happen.

(...) Children transform their play spaces in their imaginations. To do this, Robo-Squad SND units needed to react to three elements: their environment, each other, and the child.

The wild watches by Aram Armstrong, Vinay Vankatraman and Pei Yu is also interesting in the sense that it is a wearable game and role play facilitator in the form of a watch. Both a platform in the software and hardware sense, on which many games and roles can be developed and played, what I found relevant is also the scenario they envisioned:

The animal role expresses itself by giving the child appropriate feedback, which come in the form of visual, auditory or tactile cues. These can be triggered by the proximity of predator or prey, or by making appropriate animal-like gestures. The physical and on-screen design of the watch gives the impression of an extension of the animal, so your arm becomes the elephant's trunk, the tiger's paw, or the snake's head and thereby moves the focus of the child's activity from the watch unto the entire body. Wild Watches allows children to play games, both alone and with friends. The games we explored and tested with children were new games and adaptations of old games but given new contexts and tech-enhanced twists; hand games, tag games, hide and seek games with names like Ant Race (cooperative play), Frog Hop (hot potato), Dragon Battle (strategy hand game), Virus (grouping and re-grouping tag), Bat Chase (sonic evasion), Snake, Mongoose, Bulldog (triangle tag), and Dolphin Treasure (hot and cold).

Why do I blog this? when I visited IDI last year I've heard about this workshop and was looking forward to see what could have emerged from it (in terms of interactive toy forecasts).

High tech, kids, interactive toys and the "why" question

Yet another article about how toy makers push high tech for tots, nothing so new there but it tackles some issues related to this phenomenon:

"The cool thing about that is that kids are role-playing what they see around them, and they see their siblings using digital cameras and using digital phones," Rice said. "They see their parents using those, and so that's what they want to role-play with." (...) Newborns may be too young for plug-and-play TV games, but that doesn't mean they're left out of the digital revolution. VTech, for example, has a high-tech toy aimed at newborns, the Explore & Learn mat -- where infants are introduced to numbers, letters, colors and shapes as they touch various parts of an electronic but machine-washable play mat. (...) The toys are popular not only because they help impart cognitive and emotional intelligence, but also because they involve parents in the process.

"When kids are that little, parents are one of their favorite playthings, so having their parents' time and interacting with their parents is great," Rice said.

It also underline a very important trend:

"Today's kids understand computers and the technology from the get-go. It's part of their world; it's like the air," he said. "They don't question it; it's just there."

Why do I blog this? I am wondering about this would impact the relation society has with technology. Anne discussed the issue of the "inevitability" of technology from the designers point of view; in this case here it's a bit different since it's a reflection of what market researchers perceived from kids' behavior towards technology: as a natural component of their world.

Kids, toys, interactivity and the next big thing

The NYT gives a list of digital electronics between adult technology and children's play:

Fisher-Price, synonymous with Elmo and Power Wheels, will introduce a digital music player and digital camera for children ages 3 and older that will be sold during the 2006 holiday season.

Tek Nek Toys will show off a small digital music player with built-in speakers and flashing lights, called CoolP3 Fusion, for children 4 and up. Emerson Radio will introduce a SpongeBob SquarePants speaker system for MP3 players and SpongeBob SquarePants digital camera.

In perhaps the most extreme example of the trend, a company called Baby Einstein will introduce a baby rocker with an MP3 adapter and speakers. (...) No wonder, perhaps, that last year Hasbro introduced a digital video camera for children ages 8 and older and Disney introduced an MP3 player for children as young as 6.

Executives at Fisher-Price, a division of Mattel, said the company's MP3 player and digital camera, both priced at $70, are specifically designed for young children, with a rugged design that can survive repeated four-foot drops and big easy-to-use buttons that simplify the technology.

The Kid-Tough Digital Camera, for example, has two view finders — much like a pair of binoculars — rather the single window found on the adult version; two large handles to steady it before shooting a picture; and a two-step process for deleting unwanted pictures verses the four- or five-step version on a typical camera.

That's what happen when toy companies marketed digital electronics to "tweens". The article describes how toy designers took kids' skills into account as well as the need for a ... hum.. "contextual help":

Because not all preschoolers can read a song title before hitting the play button, the Digital Song and Story Player relies on easily recognizable icons to symbolize each song, like a star for "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" or a barn for "Old McDonald."

Both products take a minimalist approach. The digital camera has only five buttons. "We analyzed what kids did with these products and what appealed to them and threw out what they didn't need," said David Ciganko, vice president for product design at Fisher-Price. (...) With both technologies, however, it is mommy and daddy who will have to do some of the accomplishing. A parent's help is required to download new songs on the digital music player and upload photos to a computer before printin

Finally, it describes one of the most important concerns:

Marianne Szymanski, creator of Toy Tips, a research firm based in Milwaukee, said that for the most part digital electronics promote a solitary pattern of play, for example, a child sitting alone listening to music on headphones.

"I am not saying tech is bad, but we need toys that encourage social interaction in the preschool years, not those that don't," she said.

Why do I blog this? It's interesting to see this trend of having more and more adult features in toys. Now I think the next step is to introduce more interaction on top of those interactive toys, just as it happened on the web with social software. The next big thing is definitely social software for kids (expanding the idea of myspace, cyworld...), like having some object-centered social software to share your neopets, your game scors, habbo hotel design...

Stuffed toy interface

"Robo-Teddy: Today’s Stuffed Toys, Tomorrow’s Intelligent Agents by Benjamin Alfonsi. It seems that some folks move beyond the WiFi rabbit Nabaztag. This computerized plush squirell answers cell phone calls, takes messages, and alerts its owner to important calls or new voicemail.

The good old-fashioned teddy bear has become an intelligent agent. Computer scientists are now using stuffed toys as intelligent agents in an array of applications—from bunnies and squirrels that serve as cell phone answering devices to bears that function as “living” log recording devices. (...) Kenji Mase, professor of information architecture and technology at Nagoya University, is using a teddy bear—what he refers to as a “stuffed toy interface”

The reason for doing that is that users "react positively to embodied agents, such as stuffed toys, mainly on an emotional level".

Another project described in the IEEE article is Huggable—a therapeutic interactive bear for hospitalized children which seems to be interesting (by Cynthia Breazeal).

Why do I blog this? it's very interesting to see how toys and computing are now closer and closer; the teddy-bear interface is very trendy both as an input and an output.

Robot toy: beyond Furbies: Pleo

It seems that while Sony is stopping its Aibo/Qrio projects, some others are still believing in robot toys: the SF-based company Ugobe. Here are some excerpts from the FT:

Sony may have abandoned its Aibo robot dog but metal pet lovers will soon have a replacement in Pleo, a lifelike dinosaur robot being unveiled on Monday by the co-inventor of the Furby. Pleo is viewed as a big advance in robotics, with its fluid movement and sensors that stop it walking into walls and falling off edges.

It does not require a remote control and can cough, blink, chomp, twitch, sigh, sneeze, sniff, yawn and move its tail.

Why do I blog this? I am interested in this part:

Pleo, the work of Furby co-creator Caleb Chung and a team of biologists, animators, robotics experts and programmers, is the first of a range of “designer life forms” that will be able to evolve and interact with one another, says Ugobe.

This could lead to a new kind of gameplay between light-sabre wielding robots on the tabletop rather than on the computer screen.

You can find some information about their projects here but there aren't any picture of the product yet (on the web).