There's an immeasurable amount of creativity and energy that goes into making toys, but there's an equal, if not greater, amount expended by everyone enjoying those wonderful whatzits in return. With the cost of electronics dropping to affordable-for-all levels, and STEM becoming an educational force for developing minds, that's opened up the doors for some truly inventive edutainment. This year's Toy Fair showcased even more of the promising new world of do-it-yourself toy crafting.
The isles of Toy Fair were been brimming with new boardgames from the likes of Cryptozoic and Gale Force Nine, serving up Pickle Rick the Game and a new Aliens tabletop miniatures game, respectively. All kinds of new Transformers were shown off, and blind bag toys from Gentle Giant, now making more affordable collectibles, and Kidrobot had our wallets aching for sure.
None of those could out-awe Mattel's Power Wheel Raptor, which was certainly something our preschool selves would have flipped over. Truthfully, the toys we wish we could experience most at Toy Fair were the clever takes on programming, coding, and engineering.
Little Bits exploded onto the scene last holiday season with the Star Wars-branded Droid Inventor Kit, which allowed fans of all ages to craft an R2 unit of their own and program it to do any number of tasks. Though R2 wasn't the company's first foray into the world of toyetic coding, it was the product that expanded the company's reach far beyond what it once knew. Now a number of new, smaller coding sets are on their way, each of which offers kids a chance to develop their own night lights or "walking" creatures.
The kits themselves are simple and easy to comprehend, and even they aren't just limited to what the box says. The Little Bits ecosystem is wide open, and the range of things possible with the circuits and parts is only limited by your mind.
It certainly helps to have some branded element, though, to drive kids and parents to take a gamble on such products if they're not ready to invest in such an open-source environment. Mattel and Kamigami are working in tandem to bring some build-a-robot dinosaurs for Jurassic World to market in time for the film. Not only can you craft a raptor out of actual material, but you can program it to walk, roar, and make its eyes light up with the accompanying free app.
For the more advanced STEM aficionado out there, Merge's Cube is still thriving in its second year after blowing the doors off of augmented reality devices in 2017. The simple block and its app open tablets and phones up to all-new worlds with ease, and Merge VR making its code open source means anyone and everyone willing to put in the time can make and share something with the whole userbase.
It's made even more impressive by the upcoming addition of the 6DoF Blaster, which turns any room into a first-person battle zone simply by plugging in any smartphone. The sensors in the blaster read the room and craft a custom environment complete with barriers, verticality, and room to move so you can actually inhabit the space within the game. The demo we tried out was simple, but showed just how much potential Merge's plans held for 2018 and beyond.