Tech Meets Toys: 8 Augmented Reality Toy Experiences That Elevate How Children Play
AR features add to a toy’s play value, expand the target age group, and make the play experience magical
When it comes to playtime, kids today – Gen Alpha, I-Generation, or centennials, i.e. the tech-savvy children of millennials – seemingly gravitate most to their parents’ smartphones or iPads.
Nothing fascinates or immerses them more than a screen.
Hence, in an attempt to keep traditional toys relevant and turn the often-maligned notion of ‘screen-time’ into an advantage for this group, brands like LEGO, Disney, Hasbro, and others are upgrading playtime with augmented reality (AR).
Kids are drawn to augmented reality-enabled toys because they can — if implemented well — provide a deeper, more immersive experience, like a portal to a digital universe. And parents want to buy children these toys because of their potential for heightening engagement and perhaps even educational value.
AR-enabled toys can come in many shapes and flavors. Here are some excellent AR toy experiences that demonstrate the potential for augmented reality to enhance the traditional toy experience.
LEGO’s AR Studio
Present in many households with children, LEGO toys are a fan favorite, owing to the creative freedom they afford children of all ages — to build and be the rulers of their own little universes. LEGO is one of the earliest traditional toy companies that embraced technological transformation to stay relevant in the present-day digital world.
Here’s what Tom Donaldson, VP of Creative Play Lab at the LEGO Group says:
“We believe the best way to predict the future of play is to invent it. LEGO AR-Studio pioneers new possibilities for imaginative play where children can enjoy both physical interaction and digital engagement at the same time. This is one of many ways we innovate to combine physical and digital LEGO play into a fun and creative experience for children.”
With regard to LEGO AR Studio, the product line entails six sets of LEGO that tap into AR to bring virtual LEGO experiences to life on your living room floor. LEGO AR Studio uses fun animations and audiovisual effects to augment play once the physical sets have been pieced together.
Such play augments children’s imagination, improves their storytelling skills, patience, and organizational skills, and helps them develop constructive problem-solving. LEGO AR Studio features engaging special play features such as a dragon breathing fire, trains sounding a horn, and a LEGO firetruck using a fire-hose.
With AR Studio, LEGO takes conventional play to a whole new level. The best part is, the app is free to play and has no in-app purchases. Check out the experience here:
Shifu Orboot globe
Play Shifu’s Orboot is a STEM augmented reality toy and loved by parents and children alike. It’s the creation of a Bengaluru-based startup that has launched several award-winning augmented reality STEM toys.
Orboot isn’t just any boring globe sitting by itself on a classroom shelf, it’s an interactive AR toy Globe. It takes the ever-curious centennials on an augmented reality journey around the world, sparking their curiosity and interest in learning geography, environmental science, general knowledge, social science, and cultural sensitivity.
Orboot takes children on a scavenger hunt to explore over 400 highlights and 1000 world facts about animals, cultures, monuments, inventions, maps, international cuisine, and more, making it an excellent augmented reality toy experience for children to have.
Mario Kart Live Home Circuit
Mario Kart Live is a racing game. It introduces the alphas (children today) to Mario in a modernized way. It brings childhood favorite Mario to life in a racing game. The interactive toy play was developed by Velan Studios as part of its fifteenth episode in the series.
The game uses physical radio-controlled cars that respond to how the player plays in-game. It lets children and tweens drive a physical toy kart across virtual tracks that they can design and set up around their house. It can be played single-player as well as with friends.
Check it out here:
Parker the Bear
Seedling, a children’s startup, took a modern approach to the classic notion of an adorable teddy bear. Unlike teddy bears today’s adults grew up playing with, Parker is an augmented reality-based doctor play toy bear.
In fact, he is the world’s first AR teddy bear which is all plush. Parker is a stuffed bear without batteries, cameras, or other electronics inserted in the toy.
Kids love playing doctor and Parker is a doctor play toy, designed to help children learn and improve their STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Maths) skills through fun games and puzzles. Parker comes with a thermometer, stethoscope, x-ray bibs, a spoon, and a medicine bottle. Each time Parker is cured of a sickness or a problem is solved, Parker’s happiness levels increase, unlocking more AR features for the player/user.
The mobile app is available for Android, iOS, and Kindle Fire.
Another AR STEM toy experience by Play Shifu, this game system is designed for children between 5 to 11 years old. Shifu Plugo comes with four interesting gaming kits – Quest, Count, Link, and Steer – that include educational games for both fun and learning.
The coolest part about this game toy is that it works without the use of any electronics, cables, or additional hardware. It’s so easy to set up that your child can probably do it entirely on their own.
While children interact with the kits, they absorb STEM information. This engaging and immersive game will teach them critical thinking, vocabulary, logical reasoning, math, and other skills. They can create computers, robots, gravity-defying structures, and more while playing various games.
Another LEGO AR toy experience. This one however involves “beat bits” and a rockstar llama. Yes, a rockstar llama.
The play uses augmented reality to blend on-screen digital elements and objects with the real-world environment. As soon as the children set up the plastic concert on the floor, the digital content appears concurrently on the screen while it is happening in that setting.
This product offers 60-second clips of many of today’s popular songs, as has been the case with its toy licensing model for generations. You may recall, Hit Clips, a toy that provided short pop song tunes on tiny toy cartridges that only operated in particular players.
The Merge Cube is another STEM education toy that lets children interact with digital 3D objects, through their smartphone app.
Children can explore a galaxy in the palm of their hand, hold fossils and ancient artifacts, explore a DNA molecule, investigate the Earth’s core, dissect a virtual frog, hold and share their own 3D creations, and so much more.
Hasbro’s Iron Man AR Experience
Hasbro’s Infinity War Iron Man AR experience lets children step into the shoes of their favorite Avenger hero, Iron Man.
The toy consists of an Iron Man mask, a gauntlet, and some AR markers. The AR experience requires inserting the smartphone into the helmet turning it into a VR headset. The toy’s companion AR app then makes use of the smartphone’s camera to create virtual foes and structures around the player.
Of course, what fun would it be if players couldn’t shoot or fire at the villains? Gauntlet accessory takes care of that concern, making it a satisfying purchase for the aspiring superheroes in your household. The gauntlet allows players to fire repulsor shots at the virtual enemies until they face the final opponent: Marvel’s big bad (and purple) villain, Thanos.
Check it out here:
Looking to Augment Toy Play?
The AR toy experiences highlighted in this story demonstrate AR’s tremendous potential to revolutionize how children “play.” Many brands are beginning to act on the realization that augmented reality can merge traditional playtime with children’s growing preference for digital experiences, in a way that is vastly more engaging yet educational.
Is your toy or game company interested in creating an augmented reality experience? Reach out to CitrusBits for a free consultation. An award-winning app development agency, CitrusBits has designed and developed mission-critical AR experiences for many enterprises as well as startups, and we’d love to do the same for your organization.