How the Internet of Things is bringing Toy Story to life

Last updated: 05 July 2017

Imagine if toys could communicate with each other, interact with children, and even act out compelling stories by themselves. Sound like a certain film series? In fact, it’s just the latest development in the Internet of Things, which is set to revolutionize playtime forever, and finally bring Toy Story to life. Smart Toys are the future and the implications are enormous, not just for gameplay.

The Internet of Toys blurs the physical and virtual worlds with spectacular results, creating toys which produce realistic responses to human behavior. One trend is smart toys which work in conjunction with a downloadable app. Ubooly, for instance, works by placing your smartphone or tablet into the furry shell of a cuddly animal, which responds to voices and dozes when it’s bored. Meanwhile, Fisher-Price’s Oslo is equipped with sensors which allow the child to act literally as a mini-carer for the teddy bear, which reacts to how it is treated. You’ve definitely got a friend in Oslo!

But the most innovative experiments are being conducted by Disney researchers, who are planning to fit action figures with a technology called Visible Light Communication. It’s a communication channel which works via the transmission of flashes of light. Models fitted with LED-to-LED networking capabilities will be able to communicate with each other, interpret their environments and produce an intelligent response.

Just like Toy Story, the figures will recognize their surroundings and act upon the information they receive. Eventually, they’ll also be able to act independently, causing all sorts of mischief and maybe even pursuing exciting adventures of their own creation.

Not only will the Internet of Things create ‘intelligent toys’, but it will allow players to live out their imagination and interact with the new ecosystem of toys. Disney has just taken its first giant step this month, launching Playmation, which works through wearable technology. Sporting Avengers accessories, such as specially-adapted gloves and weapons, kids can take part in a live action game, completing missions and taking down enemies.

All accessories are linked to the Internet, meaning there’ll be harder missions to download and new villains to defeat. Not only does it allow children to make their superhero dreams a reality, but it’s a tremendous money-spinner for Disney. The economic potential of the IoT is obvious, with the global toy industry already worth over 80 billion US dollars.

The impact of the IoT isn’t just revolutionizing gameplay. Experts say it’s also creating new opportunities for stimulating cognitive development in children. Specially programmed smart toys can facilitate learning in the form of games and puzzles. The incorporation of literacy and numeracy training into narrative frameworks can make the learning process more engaging and easier to understand for children; hence why I’ll be buying a connected game or toy for my son this year – anything that can help boost a child’s learning is certainly worth investing in.

As long as it’s managed responsibly and securely, the possibilities of the Internet of Toys stretch to infinity and beyond. What are your hopes for the Internet of Toys? Let us know by tweeting to us @Gemalto.