We’re taking a look back at the trends and highlights of the many interactive toys and smart electronics on display at the 2016 International Toy Fair in New York.
The fair itself declared 2016 to be the year of brain boosters, STEAM (Science, Engineering, Arts, and Math)-related toys and collectibles, as well as family games and activities. We saw plenty of geek collectibles everywhere we looked, including lots of new Funko lines as well as nature figurines. Lots of smart toys and electronics also caught our eye and offered interesting possibilities for the future of toys and technology.
Building blocks and more:
Interactive and smart building blocks were among the most popular trends we saw, from light-up stackable kits to blocks that emulate computer code.
Modular Robotics Cubelets
Cubelets are robotic building blocks that perform different basic functions when they’re assembled in different ways. The design of the blocks and the order they’re assembled in teaches kids how to engineer at a basic level. Not only that, but it even teaches them the basic concept of coding syntax and code strings. The bigger your “string” of blocks, the more power you have at your disposal.
KitRex was our favorite of the many build-your-own dinosaur models we saw at Toy Fair. Designed by Lisa Glover while she was a graduate student at Lehigh University’s Technical Entrepreneurship program, this 3-D dinosaur kit comes in Stegosaurus, Velociraptor, Terodactyl, and T-Rex models, among others.
Another Lehigh graduate student, Lauren Villaverde created these simple but geometric 3-D printed building blocks to teach kids about simple shapes as well as some of our favorite animal creatures.
Popular Playthings MagSnaps and Translucent PlayStix
Magsnaps are fun geometric variants on simple shape building sets. But they’re transparent, which means you can see the inside of your design— perfect for a beginning artist or architect. And you can also purchase the cool light-up board shown above to illuminate your constructions from the inside out.
Like Cubelets, Playstix are designed to facilitate engineering and understanding of design. These cool translucent building blocks function best when their parts are assembled in specific ways to hold their shapes. This means that your would-be architect has to design their shape before they build. The results are educational, functional, and gorgeous.
Eitech Solar-powered Construction Sets
Not only are these shiny steel model construction sets incredibly eye-catching, but the Eitech Solar line includes construction sets with motorized parts powered by a solar panel. Seriously legit.
Electronics Kits and DIY
BlinkBlink Creative Circuit Kits
BlinkBlink’s Creative Circuits allow your teen to create amazing wearables, gadgets, and other engineering marvels through a variety of different pattern kits. You can make your own LED sweater or a light-up card for a friend while learning about electronic basics and familiarizing yourself with the ins and outs of circuitry.
SmartLab Sew Science Globots kits
Like the circuit kits, these kits emphasize basic wearable DIY creation for kids—only the focus is on making a fun, colorful world of interactive electronic plushies.
Bloxels video game builder
Bloxels is a high-concept game-maker that allows kids to create their own video games using basic building blocks. It’s kind of like the concept behind Minecraft meets the concept behind Hour of Code. First, kids create their own basic mosaic game level design using the simple color code shown below. You can also use the blocks to create game characters.
Then using the Bloxels app on your tablet, take a picture of the layout or character and watch the game come to life.
Retailing at $300, this 3-D printer won’t be for everybody, but if you want to teach your kids how to make their own crafts, Mattel’s new DIY toymaker is unbelievably simple. Just download the Thingmaker Design app, easily design your own toys, and send them to the printer. Voila!
Robots and Smart Toys
Robots and app-controlled smart toys ruled the roost at Toy Fair this year. Here were a few of our favorites:
ToysTech app-controlled robot
ToysTech gave us this adorable app-controlled robot whose facial expressions change on command:
This little guy from ToysTech just won my heart. His facial expressions are app-controlled! pic.twitter.com/pKh0LGRxYc— Aja Romano (@ajaromano) February 13, 2016
Ubtech Robotics Alpha 1S
As you can see, Alpha 1S can be programmed to dance on its own to any kind of music you want. (Here it’s rocking out to “Gangnam Style.”) It’s also an AI that can talk to you, read you stories, serve as a personal assistant, control various smart appliances in your house, monitor your security, and even do yoga. What’s not to love?
Chip wags its tail, plays, and learns commands from you as it “grows.” It also recharges itself, greets you when you come home, and needs to be “fed” and played with just like a real dog. We suspect some people will think it’s completely creepy, while others fall completely in love.
A Toy Fair favorite, Edwin is a smart rubber duck that talks to you, reads stories, serves as an LED night light, has an app that controls his environment, and comes with his own rechargeable “nest.”
Much like Edwin, Cognitoys are cute dinosaurs that learn and grow through an app featuring parental controls and learning updates.
Sphero and Ollie
The belle of the ball, Sphero was there in all its glory with BB-8 as well as its popular regular version of the Sphero ball. Also there was Ollie, the oblong wheeled version of the ball billed as “the future of app-controlled driving.” Though the range of the balls’ mobility probably depends on which version of the Sphero app you use, these devices make for a great modern alternative to radio-controlled cars and pinball machines.
Jimu Robot Series
The Jimu is a combination model construction set and “live” robotics set, so kids get hands-on experience with basic electronics while building fun and colorful creatures. Jimu is designed to be a hands-on learning experience that the whole family can join in. Sets come in varying levels of complexity.
In the ever-tightening drone battle, it was all about size and axes: the smaller the size, the more numerous the axes, the better. Throw in a camera for good measure, and you’re ready to play. Our picks:
This mighty six-axis drone comes complete with a camera, and was one of the biggest we saw at the toy fair.
MOTA JetJat Nano
The smallest commercial drone in the world, this little guy is about the size of a paper clip! And it comes with a camera model as well.
CapableFly 2.4GHz Mini Quadcopter
Not so small as the JetJat Nano or sporting as many axes as the Sky Rover, this radio-controlled drone can still fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. It also comes in two versions—white and red or bright orange. Perfect if you want to stand out in the sky.
Correction: A previous version of this story listed the wrong model number for the Ubtech Robotics Alpha.
Photo by Aja Romano