We live in a hyper-connected world. Who doesn’t own a smartphone?. You could even be wearing a connected device right now, like a smart gadget on your wrist to track your daily activity. The IoT (Internet of Things) meaning all those devices connected to the Internet and share information between them, are all around us. And are here to stay. And we bet your home is not an exception even if you don't think it is.
Nowadays, kids are born surrounded by tech. Some studies refer them as digital natives: ‘they are basically the “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet. This really doesn’t mean anything negative. It’s just a fact.
However, we know that you, as a parent with the widespread commercialization of IoT products targeted to kids like smart toys, could probably be concerned too. That’s why, at Melbot, we like to be transparent about the benefits and also about the risks of smart toys and connected devices for the children.
The rise of the smart toys
If you do a quick search on Google, you’ll find plenty of smart toys in the market. One of the first toys created this way is Furby. This domestic robot, which replicates the process of language learning through the positive reinforcement of the kid, it was a great success in the late 90s. Others have come later, like Anki Cozmo, the Kano Computer or the Woobo who were successful too.
Part of their growth is due to the potential benefits of these toys in the kids. Using sensors, microphones or apps connected to the Internet allow the creation of more interactive and expressive toys, which can react to kids’ emotions and offer new functionalities to offer new ways of playing. Smart toys can help to encourage the motion development and cognitive skills.
Are smart toys bad?
Nevertheless, as with everything, there is a downside. Privacy advocates & parents are worried about IoT toys, specially about those that have a camera and a microphone or GPS positioning, and for a good reason. Toy manufacturers emphasize the positive benefits of smart toys. However, several controversies about security breaches have generated a distrust around the smart toys and those extend to kids smart watches as well. As the tech site" Which?" has proven, 4 of 7 smart toys tested were hacked easily.
Besides this, smart toys are also criticized for having too much of a linear design rather than the conventional ‘open-ended’ toys. Smart toys are usually designed with a more limited structure, defined by the limits of their own code or technology, limiting their play value. That’s why is so important to use technology in a way that encourages imaginative play or unlock new forms of play. Smart toys shouldn’t do all the talking and guiding and should facilitate the use of imagination for the kids, if not they would be failing as a toy.
Melbits POD, a digital toy that is not connected
Toys should give the child a sense of uniqueness, spark their imagination and stimulate their creative thinking. Smart toys can open new ways of playing, but they can also come with security risks that can expose personal information and data.
That’s why at Melbot decided to take another approach. What if we create a toy that builds on top of video games to bring back the joy of ‘open-ended’ traditional toys gameplay?
We’re currently developing the MelbitsPOD, a toy with multiple sensors that react to light, temperature and movement where you’ll have to get creative to hatch your own digital characters called Melbits™. Despite being equipped with sensors , the Melbits POD doesn’t have any GPS's, microphones or cameras, nor is connected to the Internet. Therefore does not process any personal data, it just senses its environment when activated, like a real egg. Then it connects via bluetooth to a video game and pours all the environment data in it and uses that data to magically create each member of your own tribe of Melbits. The good stuff is that all the process does not need internet to happen and all the over-the-air updates are totally optional and can be switched on and off.
According to researchers, smart toys will keep on growing in the following years, reaching $5,410.00 by 2024. Smart toys, mixed reality toys, digital toys and connected are here to stay, and as parents, we should be informed about the potential benefits but also about the possible risks of these kind of products for our kids. Technology can be really fun and magical, and at Melbot we want to focus in creating toys that are fun, deliver a long lasting value and also are safe to use!
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