Spielwarenmesse: Technical toys: The wide world in miniature

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Technical toys: The wide world in miniature

from Harald Hemmerlein

Far-reaching changes in our consumer behaviour are also gaining ground in the Technical Toys, Educational Toys, Action Toys product group.

For consumers, some toys from this product group fulfil an especially important function for children: They depict the grown-up world on a small scale in a kid-friendly way, enabling secure access to the technologies that make up today’s world. Children model themselves on us adults: toy telephones, toy tools, toy cars, to name just a few, have been within children’s grasps since coming into their focus as real-life objects.

Smartphone, etc.: On the playful path to media savvy

This is of course also true for technologies and objects that have only been within our grasps for a relatively short time. PCs, smartphones, tablets, etc. fascinate children, and not just because they see us with them day in and day out. These kinds of devices also offer many possibilities for play, fascinating ones, too. It’s just that it’s not all that easy to hand over the originals to the kids.

“Naturally, children have to learn at some point how to master these media, and not to be mastered by them”, says educator and author Uta Reimann-Höhn. We thus look for playful alternatives to the real thing, so that we aren’t putting the electronic devices in children’s hands right away.

Take Fisher Price’s “Laugh and Learn Tablet”. The tablet familiarizes children with letters, first words, as well as objects and living beings. Fisher-Price developed the “smart stages technology”, allowing parents to adapt the learning contents to the status of their children’s individual development. There are a total of three levels. In the first level, the child hears first words after pressing an “app”. The second level is meant to motivate children to find letters and objects. And the last level introduces the little ones to their first role plays and promotes their powers of imagination.

3D-print: From consumer to maker

Tinker Toys App
Tinker Toys App

Real tablets also enrich play: The TinkerToys app from TinkerToys GmbH in Magdeburg has been available for download for iOS and Android tablets since May 2018. The construction app, which is free of charge, enables children from around age six to first design their own toys as 3D models, and then to produce them using 3D print. If there is no 3D printer available, TinkerToys takes care of production.

“The app is meant to help children playfully bolster their media literacy. Experiences with it up to now at schools and educational institutions have been thoroughly positive. This is our contribution to digital education”, says co-founder of TinkerToys, Marko Jakob.

Many describe 3D print as a technology that will fundamentally change the way we consume. The consumer becomes the producer of consumer goods, no longer looking to the market for objects that satisfy their needs. They simply produce for themselves based on their own individual concepts. There is one scenario that just might not be too far-fetched: A manufacturer of plastic construction sets no longer makes their money producing components, but instead through selling software that can produce the components individually. When we think of game pieces made of plastic, the possibilities of individualizing such products through the 3D process are obvious. There too, we will surely also experience surprising and revolutionary developments in the toy industry in the near future.

Construction toys: Building the future

Construction kit ADVANCED Solar by fischertechnik
Construction kit ADVANCED Solar by fischertechnik

The producers of construction sets continue first and foremost to successfully focus on the physical distribution of their products, also continuing to stress the educational aspects of their offer in their marketing efforts.

fischertechnik GmbH’s ADVANCED Solar construction set is all about renewable energies. The set contains 80 components from which three different models can be built. The resulting helicopter, air boat or fan is powered by the solar rotor, a combination of solar cells and motor. It is attached directly to the fischertechnik building blocks and boasts a wide variety of applications. The module generates energy, even at a low sun or light irradiation level.

Austrian company Piatnik (Wiener Spielkartenfabrik Ferd. Piatnik & Söhne) is taking new roads in material design. Their Bioblo sets consist of construction blocks made up of 60 percent wood and 40 percent recycled plastics. The open, honeycomb structure of the construction blocks gives them stability and transparency alike.

The two new beginner sets, each with 40 pieces, are called “Friendship” and “Sweet Home”. Themes like a bird of paradise, a dream house and fantasy creatures adorn the boxes and show what can be built with the contents. Many more sources of inspiration and instructions for new building projects can be found on the Internet.

Bioblo-Set "Sweet Home"
Bioblo-Set "Sweet Home"
Magformers Set
Magformers Set

Components for play constructions can be connected with one another in many different ways. One original idea is to use the power of magnetism. Korean company Magformers offers magnetic construction elements in the form of squares, triangles and diamond-shaped pentagons that constantly re-form into new geometric shapes. The construction elements can be added intuitively – without inserting, pushing, or other connecting elements that can go missing or be swallowed. Magformers building blocks now come in a compact box in the Magformer design. Just right for a trip!

Role play: Technology-driven play scenarios

Toys that provide motivation for role play present a broad field in this product group. With LEGO’s passenger train, children upwards of six years of age travel through the LEGO City World. The motorized engine can be driven via the new Bluetooth remote control or the new LEGO City Train app in ten different speed levels. Children create their very own routes with the rail segments and the platform elements. Even the tip of the train and the locomotive driving cab can be folded back.

Playmogram 3D-Sets
Playmogram 3D-Sets

The role play classics are from PLAYMOBIL. The manufacturer of these versatile little men and their play worlds, the PLAYMOBIL - geobra Brandstätter Stiftung & Co. KG, also offers a good example of the ongoing success of licensed toys in this merchandise group as well. The play sets based on the cartoon series “The Real Ghostbusters”, offer children the chance to re-enact the ghostbusters’ adventures, giving the manufacturer the chance to use a strong license brand. The sets’ equipment, worked out to the last detail, offers everything for authentic ghost chases, from the fold-back ghost traps right through to the “nuclear-powered” proton packs.

With the new Playmogram 3D Sets, smartphone or tablet are converted to a hologram projector that becomes a ghostbuster. By downloading the Playmogram 3D app and placing the hologram pyramid on the smartphone or tablet marking, the ghosts will begin to drift through the room.

Technology for tots: Let’s get going

Who said technology could not be cuddly? VTECH Electronics Europe GmbH introduced the “Cuddly Football”. The plush ball contains lots of electronics. A movement sensor triggers various sounds and melodies. Otherwise the ball plays songs and quotes from the football world. An original example for the great variety of football championship-themed toys.

VTech plush football
VTech Cuddly Football
Carrera First Set with Nintendo license
Carrera First Set with Nintendo license

Austria’s Stadlbauer Marketing + Vertrieb GmbH is expanding its target group for the Carrera racetracks. Mario, Yoshi and friends, licensed by Nintendo, now lure kids as early as the age of three to the control units for the “Carrera First” series. And there will also be Carrera First sets around the themes of Mickey Mouse and Cars.


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Author of this article:

Harald Hemmerlein

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