At the Tech West convention center in Las Vegas, I was blown away by what the exhibitors at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show had to offer when it came to toys and other gadgets for kids and even for senior citizens.
Like my previous post, I am going to focus on the standout displays that caught my eye. Trust me, CES is one tight hive of creativity and innovation!
Engineering & programming toys for kids
This was one of the coolest product areas I saw overall, and I was glad to see a variety of developers working on the idea. The basic concept is simple enough: Take the interactivity of Legos, bring in the functionality of smartphone/tablet devices, allow kids the ability to craft and create any number of toys, machines, programs they like, and watch as they suddenly become 10 times smarter than you at developing functioning machines.
One of the first, and most outstanding, versions of this I saw was Plezmo, which will be starting its Kickstarter campaign at the beginning of next week. Plezmo provides kids with simple blocks that can be magnetically connected to each other or adhered to a number of surfaces, which produce a variety of actions depending on the child’s intent. Some blocks are motion sensors, others are displays, movement trackers, gear boxes, etc. The child can take these basic blocks, and build off of them with Lego-like building pieces to develop any number of machines or mechanisms on their own.
These projects can then be programmed to perform any number of functions through a tablet app that allows the user to apply a variety of actions to the components, which can be manipulated and changed on the fly. The creators had a simple candy dispenser on the table on display at the convention. The machine spun around, giving candy to guests, but not without first performing a few actions. In order for the machine to dispense, the user had to insert a card into a box, which tripped a motion sensor, informing a display device, that the machine was ready to interact with the user. Once the display showed the user the “thumbs up” sign, the user could then swipe their hand over another sensor to activate the machine.
The best part about these products is that they require absolutely no experience or knowledge in the field of coding or engineering to create, but lead to incredible hands-on experience before even getting into school. All the actions of the parts were written out and placed in specific categories for the user to sort through, and they even provided guides for basic projects to start. All of the companies that I saw doing this had similar interfaces and designs, but I found Plezmo’s to be a bit more complex, for older users to still find it engaging, while not being too difficult for young children.
Additionally, I found an incredibly cool toy for young children that aimed at educating without the over-use of tablet/smartphone devices. The toy is called Neil the Little Explorer, and this adorable dude functions as a kind of educational companion that does not rely on screens or the Internet to function. Neil, which looks like a little doll with buttons on its stomach, engages the user through questions which lead to the doll providing “wikis” that inform the user of facts about the topic at hand. For example, Neil may ask a child of he or she likes honey, and then follow up with simple facts about how honey is made. Simple and engaging—and no screens!
But, what is really cool about this toy is that it logs the child’s response to the questions and information through a basic “like” feature similar to social media services. If the child likes the content, the child can give it a heart. Then, parents can view what the child has enjoyed learning about, and can create family-focused quizzes and projects based around the child’s preferred subjects.
Now, let’s talk about robots. They were everywhere. Lurking behind every corner, waiting to provide some service to me. It was terrifyingly adorable and servile. And they were mostly pretty cool.
Whether they were folding laundry — yes, soon they will be folding our laundry — or trying to sell us additional junk at casinos—you better believe there was a hospitality robot; it’s Vegas after all! — there was virtually no industry not celebrating robotics. But, I want to talk about a particularly cool one that I found on the lower floor that emphasized elderly care and companionship.
The Yumii robot has what I believe is the most interesting and ambitious purpose of all the robots I saw during my time at CES. This robot is intended for elderly users who want to retain a social life, but may not have the physicality to do so. The robot, which has an hourglass form, moves on a tri-wheel system, and has a smiling touch screen interface that can be used to input orders or receive video.
The robot provides the user with access to a variety of activities and services provided by volunteer users who can engage with the user. The obvious use would be to interact with family members who cannot visit, but the developers also want to incorporate doctors, who can provide instant care for elderly users, and people willing to volunteer their time to engage with the user socially. What a beautiful combination of futuristic tech and traditional philanthropy.