Many of the technologies on this list used to be relegated to the confines of science fiction stories. Today they are found in toys, often made for children. One reason they are found in toys is because toys are usually not very complex, thus making them great testing fields for emerging technologies. That means that while they are toys today, they may be everyday technology in the near future.
10. Kinetic Sand
Kinetic sand is a very innovative building and molding toy because it successfully tackles sand’s biggest problem, which is that it tends to get everywhere and never seems to leave. We’re sure everyone has a bag they brought to the beach years ago that still has some remnants of sand in it from that day. Kinetic sand, on the other hand, works like a magnet when it touches other grains of kinetic sand.
It is a very unusual substance that is 98 percent pure sand and two percent polydimethylsiloxane, which is silicone oil that is similar to what is used to give Silly Putty it’s unique properties. This special mixture makes the sand easy to mold, like wet sand. But since it uses silicone oil, the sand never dries out and never becomes dusty. It doesn’t even make your hands dirty when you use it. The only thing that kinetic sand sticks to is itself.
So if you’ve ever dreamt of making a sandcastle inside, this will probably be your best opportunity. That is unless you want to pull a sadistic prank on someone. Then use real sand, and you’ll have one less person on your Christmas card list. Win-win.
If you like Jenga, but find that building a tower on a flat, level surface is not challenging enough, you might really enjoy the game Hoverkraft. As you can probably guess from its name, the game has a floating platform. Specifically, it uses magnetic repulsion.
The object is to stack different shaped blocks, like Tetris pieces, on top of each other on the floating platform. As you can probably tell, the game is pretty difficult and most games last five minutes at most.
8. Cognitoys Dino
Toys that talk and interact with people aren’t exactly new. Probably everyone who is old enough remembers Furby, the must-have toy of 1998. While Furby isn’t as popular as it was when it was first released, the concept and the technology of a toy that interacts with people has been evolving over the years.
Perhaps the neatest interactive toy is the Cognitoys Dino. The plastic dinosaur uses IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence technology and Elemental Path’s Friendgine, which is a system that helps the Dino learn and adapt. The Dino has Wi-Fi, so it evolves on a cloud based system based on what it hears from the child and adapts its programming to their age and educational ability. Once it adapts, it remembers the child’s name, tells them jokes and stories, answers questions, and has educational games that develop vocabulary and math skills.
Games using round spheres, or balls if you will, have been around for millenniums and are the definition of low technology. But in the new millennium, balls have gotten a robotic update. An amazing example is Sphero, which is an app enabled robotic ball. You can control where the hard plastic ball rolls using a smart device, and this includes going off road and underwater. Besides being a remote controlled ball, Sphero also has over a dozen games and apps, including an obstacle course, a version of Hot Potato, and games like Exile that allow you to use the ball as an arcade joystick.
Sphero’s other notable robotic toy balls are replicas of the BB-8 droid from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The BB-8 uses gyroscopic propulsion and is controlled by an app.
Another very cool robotic ball is Leka, which is a rolling ball with an electronic face inside that changes facial expressions based on its mood. Leka’s makers are hoping the ball becomes a “robotic companion” to children with special needs, especially autism. Leka has games that help improve cognitive and motor skills and for children with autism, it will help with recognition of emotions in other people.
A big theme in toys of the future is that, from a young age, they will teach children programing, coding, and computer skills. A toy that is quickly gaining popularity as a teaching tool in this area is Thymio. Thymio is a small programmable robot that was introduced in Switzerland four years ago and helps teach the basics of robotics and computers. Since then, more than 14,000 units have been sold and are currently being used in schools throughout Europe.
The small robot with two wheels comes preprogrammed with behaviors that will make it act differently. This includes settings like like explorer, friendly, and fearful. After some lessons, students can program their own behaviors into the Thymio. There are also more advanced lessons, like using add-ons that can convert the Thymio to a helicopter and be programmed to fly.
Beyond computer and robotics, there are applications and games that can be programmed into the Thymio. These include games that help young people explore their senses, and also teach music, help in the understanding of the principle of force, and there are other games that help improve math skills. Currently, there are 50 different ready-to-use kits and they all come with instruction material for the teacher.
So with children learning coding and programming at an early age, maybe people should stop giving kids a hard time about not learning cursive writing because they’ll be better programmers than most adults. And in a world of advancing technology, those skills are probably going to be more important than cursive handwriting.
For some time for now, we’ve been told that games and apps of the future will be controlled using our brainwaves. The amazing thing is that toymaker Mattel already released a board game named Mindflex that is controlled using electroencephalography (EEG) technology, which is a way to measure brainwaves.
To play the game, you wear a headband that was developed by NeuroSky, a company that develops and manufactures products that read EEG and electromyography (EMG). Based on your level of concentration, the headband powers a fan that moves a Styrofoam ball along a track. There are a few different games for one or two players, including moving a ball through an obstacle course, a duel, and an aiming game, just to name a few.
When PC Magazine reviewed Mindflex in 2012, they said the game had a steep learning curve to get the exact type of concentration needed to move the ball. But they said that once they figured it out, it was an undeniably amazing experience to move something with your mind like Luke Skywalker or Magneto.
Thanks to Back to the Future II, many people were hoping by 2015 that hoverboards would be commonplace. Of course, they aren’t, but that doesn’t mean several companies aren’t trying. Lexus built one, but it only works in specialized skate parks. Another company called Hendo Hoverboard has a levitating board, but they are only at the Kickstarter phase and have no mass production plans at the time of this writing.
Instead, probably the closest thing we have to a hoverboard comes from Hoverboard Technologies, but we have some bad news. The board doesn’t levitate. Instead, it has one wheel in the middle of a skateboard-like deck, and uses gyroscope technology (like Segways) to keep its balance.
The board goes 20 MPH and can travel 15 miles per charge; it needs about an hour to charge, or 12 minutes with a supercharger.
While the Hoverboard looks cool and seems like an excellent way to get around, it does have major downsides. It is apparently hard to ride even for experienced skaters and snowboarders. It is also fairly heavy, weighing 20 to 25 pounds. Finally, it definitely isn’t cheap. It costs $3,000 for the lite version of these bad boys, and for the full model, which includes sonar and blue tooth speaker, it will set you back $4,000.
Hoverboard Technology is ramping up mass production and will be shipping out the first units in July 2016.
3. Meccano Meccanoid G15 Personal Robot
A futuristic toy that Martin Prince from The Simpsons would love is the Meccano Meccanoid G15 Personal Robot, which is a programmable robot you can build yourself. The robot is made up of 600-plus pieces and has six motors that move the head, the arms, and the wheels on its feet. Meccanoid also has voice recognition technology so you can give it commands that it will follow, like shake hands, give high fives, and walk hand-in-hand with you.
Another feature of the robot that is found on the Meccanoid’s app is the Motion Capture. Simply activate the feature on your smart device and place the device in the robot’s chest. Once installed, the Meccanoid will copy your movements.
Also, the robot is more than your slave-friend who is there to give you high fives whenever you’re lonely (although admittedly that’s like 90% of the reason we want one). It also has thousands of programmed phrases, jokes, comments, and witty comebacks. It’s also programmed with several games it’ll play with you.
Meccanoids come in two different sizes: there’s the standard G15, which is almost four feet tall, and then there is the G15 KS (Kid Size), which is about two feet tall. Finally, while the main design is a humanoid robot, the pieces can be used to create completely different objects and structures.
2. Google’s Tilt Brush
For centuries, artists have been able to show depth in their paintings that gives the illusion of three dimensions on a flat surface. In the last century, 3D movies began to make it look like pictures were popping off the flat surface of the movie screen. Then in 2016, 3D art got a radical update, thanks to Google. Google’s $29.99 Tilt Brush app allows people to paint in three dimensions using the HTC Vive virtual reality headset and controllers. It has a number of special features that you would never find in the art world, such as painting with fire, snow, and starlight. Once your creation is done, you can share it as a full scale VR experience, or just a small animated GIF.
Of course, the Tilt Brush has further applications than just being a toy. One area that could be drastically changed is any field of design. For example, fashion designers can design a full clothing line of 3D clothes and paint with different materials like denim, silk, cotton, and so on, without cutting a piece of fabric. Or an interior designer could give a client a virtual tour of a room without painting a wall or moving a single piece of furniture.
1. No Man’s Sky
Of course, video games aren’t a new toy, but there has never been another game quite like No Man’s Sky. The game has a universe that is so enormous that it nearly rivals our own.
The point of the game is to travel around the vast universe and explore galaxies, solar systems and its 18 quintillion planets. Yes, you read that right, but to be exact, there will be 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 individual planets in the game. The universe is so big that there is a good chance you will never run into another player because there are 2.6 million planets for every person on Earth. According to Wired magazine, if you wanted to explore every planet in No Man’s Sky, it would take someone a mind-boggling five billion years to do so. If all that wasn’t mind blowing enough, on many planets there are sets of plants and animals which have evolved on their own. The developers don’t even know what the plants and animals look like on a vast majority of the planets.
So now that we can buy a simulated universe for about $60, does it make you wonder about the nature of our own reality?