5 Augmented Reality Toys

Toys are Providing a Glimpse at New Ways to Interact with Tech

The idea of augmented reality (AR) is something out of a fantasy or science fiction novel. Technology that jumps out of an impersonal computer or device and into the real world, essentially "coming alive." It's little wonder then that recently one of the biggest applications of augmented reality has been in toys, as these toys can capture the imagination of kids in a powerful way.

But these toys may also provide some subtle hints as to what may become a more common way of interacting with technology, out in the real world, rather than trapped on a device. For those interested in the possible uses of augmented reality, here are 5 toys that are worth playing around with.

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Derek Hatfield/Flickr/Attribution 2.0 Generic

Sphero is a robotic ball that uses a gyroscopic robot to propel itself across the floor. It's similar to a remote controlled car, but the ball can be controlled using a mobile app that is available on iOS and Android. Orbotix, the company that created Sphero actually took a similar path to many traditional tech startups, graduating from startup accelerator TechStars, and then securing $5 million in funding from Foundry Group and other venture partners. While Sphero seems a cool enough idea on its own, they've recently added to the product's features by incorporating an augmented reality component, making Sphero one of the first products to include a moving augmented reality marker, opposed to most toys which use a stationary printed marker.

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Augmented Reality Brings 3-D to Retail
Intel Free Press/Flickr/Attribution 2.0 Generic

Lego is a classic toy that has been capturing the "builder" sensibilities of many kids for decades. The company has been very aggressive in expanding into technological innovations such as augmented reality, undoubtedly sensing competition from any number of high-tech diversions for kids time. As a result, Lego had some of the first augmented reality offerings to go to market. The company offered a "digital box" with a printed AR marker that allowed customers to visualize the finished product on the box using a mobile app, or a video kiosk. Lego also created mobile games, in which players assemble Lego shapes to compete, thus creating an interactive element to the long-standing pastime of playing with Legos.

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AR Drone

AR.Drone 2.0 in flight with indoor hull
Halftermeyer/Flickr/Creative Commons 3.0

The AR Drone is a remote-controlled​ quadrotor helicopter developed by the French company Parrot. Much like the Sphero, it is controlled using a mobile device on iOS or Android. The AR Drone captured a lot of attention for its sophisticated sensor and camera technology for a relatively accessible price. Again, much like the Sphero, the AR Drone has incorporated augmented reality elements to add even greater value to its product. Using colored stickers that act as AR tags, in conjunction with the onboard cameras, the AR Drone can be used to play a virtual reality video game, in which multiple AR Drones can do battle with one another.

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Disney Dream Play

Disney Dream Play
Image via Kidscreen

Sensing a shift towards the use of augmented reality in toys, Disney is one of the latest companies to announce that it will be producing augmented reality products using the much loved Disney properties. Though the product has not yet been released, the toys, currently called Disney Dream Play, will feature Disney characters coming to life using stationary AR tags and a tablet and mobile device app. The Disney announcement lends even further legitimacy to the idea that Augmented reality will be a profitable area for toy makers.

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Sony Wonderbook

Sony Wonderbook
Image via Youtube/Katya Starshova

The Sony Wonderbook is the gaming giant's first standalone foray into augmented reality, and it is sold as an add-on to the popular PlayStation 3 and motion-sensing controller, PlayStation Move. The Wonderbook has guaranteed some sales by securing the rights to a Harry Potter game, and the first release is a Harry Potter spellbook in which the pages come to life on your television using stationary AR tags. The Wonderbook will continue with other products that bring augmented reality to the PS3.