Trans­form­ing toys into high-tech prod­ucts

Play things get in­tel­li­gent, spawn­ing a multi­bil­lion-yuan mar­ket in the coun­try, re­ports Fan Feifei.

China Daily (Canada) - - DEPTH -

Can a 6-year-old child un­der­stand and ap­ply the knowl­edge of elec­tri­cal cir­cuits? Yes, if he/ she gets to play with a high-tech toy de­signed by a Shang­hai-based com­pany.

Link­ing up the “elec­tronic bricks”, which in­clude a power source, a switch, a re­sis­tor and other com­po­nents with a con­duct­ing wire, chil­dren could learn the ba­sic prin­ci­ple and knowl­edge about cir­cuits dur­ing the process of as­sem­bly.

“Mar­velous Cir­cuit” is the lat­est in­tel­li­gent toy launched by Shang­hai Pu­tao Tech­nol­ogy Co Ltd.

Thanks to the ap­pli­ca­tion of im­age- recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy, chil­dren could also clearly see the motion trails of elec­trons in the con­nected cir­cuit by just scan­ning their com­pleted works us­ing an app.

Founded in 2014, Pu­tao is en­gaged in the de­vel­op­ment of hi-tech toys and apps for chil­dren aged be­tween 3 and 12.

Chi­nese toy man­u­fac­tur­ers are speed­ing up ef­forts to ap­ply the most-ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies, such as ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, vir­tual re­al­ity, aug­mented re­al­ity, im­age recog­ni­tion and big data, to the in­tel­li­gent toy mar­ket.

“The in­tel­li­gent toy industry is on the verge of a tip­ping point. With the de­vel­op­ment of tech­nol­ogy, in­tel­li­gence has been in­cor­po­rated into tra­di­tional toys, which will be­come hi- tech prod­ucts now,” said Sheng Xiaofeng, chief prod­uct of­fi­cer at Pu­tao.

More­over, most of the young par­ents now were born in the 1980s. They have a high de­gree of ac­cep­tance of tech­ni­cal prod­ucts. They pay more at­ten­tion to cul­ti­vat­ing chil­dren’s qual­i­ties, said Sheng.

“Chil­dren th­ese days tend to use many hi-tech prod­ucts such as tablets and smart­phones, so they ac­cept in­tel­li­gent toys eas­ily,” Sheng said.

China’s sec­ond- child pol­icy, which was of­fi­cially im­ple­mented from Jan 1, is ex­pected to fur­ther stim­u­late the growth of the toy mar­ket. Other com­pa­nies are also aim­ing at the chil­dren’s mar­ket to de­velop drones, vir­tual-re­al­ity glasses and aug­mented-re­al­ity toys.

Ac­cord­ing to Euromon­i­tor International, a mar­ket research firm, the sales value of the Chi­nese toys and games industry has risen from 46.3 bil­lion yuan ($7.05 bil­lion) in 2010 to 74.4 bil­lion yuan in 2014, with an av­er­age an­nual growth rate of 12.6 per­cent. The fig­ure is ex­pected to sur­pass 100 bil­lion yuan in 2017.

The in­tel­li­gent toy mar­ket is grow­ing rapidly, and the most ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies are seen rein­vig­o­rat­ing the tra­di­tional toy mar­ket.

It is es­ti­mated that the com­pound growth rate of global in­tel­li­gent toy mar­ket will reach 35 per­cent for the 2014-18 pe­riod.

Make­block, the main brand of Shen­zhen Maker Works Tech­nol­ogy Co Ltd, is an­other good ex­am­ple of suc­cess in the toy mar­ket. It is a ro­bot­ics con­struc­tion plat­form that con­sists of more than 400 types of metal build­ing blocks, elec­tronic mod­ules and soft­ware tools.

Founded in 2012, the com­pany pro­vides one-stop ro­bot­ics con­struc­tion so­lu­tions so that users could build any ro­bots they can imag­ine by us­ing var­i­ous me­chan­i­cal parts and elec­tronic mod­ules.

They are also able to con­nect Make­block parts with Lego blocks. The prod­ucts are priced from $99 to $799.

Wang Jian­jun, CEO and founder of Make­Block, said: “Make­block is an open plat­form, com­pat­i­ble with many other parts and sys­tems, and we help people turn their ideas into re­al­ity.

“Many tech firms have seen the huge po­ten­tial in the in­tel­li­gent toy mar­ket and in­creased in­vest­ment in the field. It is good for con­sumers as they have more choices, and healthy com­pe­ti­tion will push for­ward the progress of the industry.”

Wang said he is op­ti­mistic about the prospects for in­tel­li­gent toys. In his view, the in­tel­li­gent toys could har­ness chil­dren’s programming ca­pa­bil­ity and log­i­cal think­ing abil­ity, let the chil­dren en­joy the plea­sure of cre­ation and make ed­u­ca­tion in­ter­est­ing.

“We will con­tinue to ex­ploit the ed­u­ca­tion mar­ket and launch ed­u­ca­tional ro­bots for har­ness­ing stu­dents’ la­tent abil­i­ties.”

Industry sources es­ti­mated that the size of the do­mes­tic mar­ket for in­tel­li­gent toys will reach 100 bil­lion yuan by 2020.

How­ever, the hard­ware tech­nolo­gies have to be im­proved. The cur­rent tech­nolo­gies are still in their in­fancy and no en­ter­prise owns a dom­i­nant po­si­tion, industry in­sid­ers said. Fur­ther­more, some cut­ting-edge tech­nolo­gies might not be suit­able for in­tel­li­gent toys.

The bar­rier for AR tech­nol­ogy is rel­a­tively low. AR tech­nol­ogy could be eas­ily ap­plied to toys, but VR tech­nol­ogy, which of­ten needs a heavy hel­met, is still not ma­ture.

“The tech­ni­cal bar­ri­ers to hard­ware are not high, but we should pay at­ten­tion to ap­pli­ca­tions and de­vel­op­ment of soft­ware in the future,” said Tony Li, di­rec­tor of Shen­zhen-based Mai­son Cap­i­tal.

Li ex­pects more in­tel­li­gent prod­ucts in the ar­eas of nurs­ery and pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion as tech­nolo­gies get ad­vanced.

The scope for progress comes from the fact that do­mes­tic stan­dards still lag those in Europe and the United States. For in­stance, Lego boasts a com­plete range of toy sys­tems and high brand vis­i­bil­ity.

Sheng said: “We will make ef­forts to im­prove our of­fer­ings in the in­tel­li­gent robot field. How­ever, at present, the robot lacks ap­pli­ca­tion scener­ies and con­tent.

“We should strengthen the research and de­vel­op­ment of soft­ware and build up rich con­tent. We hope chil­dren could ob­tain more knowl­edge by com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the ro­bots.”

Sheng said the com­pany will also focus on chil­dren’s health.

Con­tact the writer at fanfeifei@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

CHEN BO¡¯AN / XIN­HUA

chief prod­uct of­fi­cer Young­sters par­tic­i­pate au­ton­o­mous re­gion. in a robot con­test in Nan­ning, the Guangxi Zhuang

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