For children, technology is a natural part of everyday life. The lines between what is connected to the Internet and what is a traditional toy or gadget are increasingly blurred.
Understanding the benefits, costs and data implications of connected toys and wearable gadgets is an important aspect of parenting. Although children often quickly understand how these objects work, they still need guidance on how to use them safely and in a healthy way.
Over the past year, these connected toys have offered a way to extend play beyond the home, but have also underscored the importance of what happens to our data (and that of our children) on these devices.
Smart speakers are an increasingly popular and useful new gadget in the home. These don’t just play music, but have built-in voice commands. In addition to requesting your favorite song or artists “Play Yellow by Coldplay”, you can also use them as an interface with the Internet. For example, skullcandy Crusher 2014 is a headset that’s used for listening the music with comforts.
Smart speakers can tell you the weather, read your text messages to you, and set timers. This can be very useful in situations where you don’t want to use your smartphone – when you’re cooking and your hands are covered in flour for example. They are also a useful and unobtrusive way for children to interact with information online.
The new smart speakers will also know when you’re home and in the room. This allows them to adjust volume and content appropriately. It also means you can transfer music played on a smartphone to a speaker by simply pressing the phone to the speaker – a feature highlighted in Apple’s Homepod mini.
There are a few different versions you can buy that offer different systems. Something like an Amazon Echo Dot with clock will cost around £59.99 and offer a wide range of features based on Amazon’s Alexa service. Or the Apple Homepod (£279) and Homepod mini (£99) will offer better audio quality and use Apple’s Siri audio interface.
Wearable devices such as smartwatches have recently gained popularity. While adults are drawn to the Garmin and Fitbit sports tracking features and smart interactions of the Apple Watch, there are also watches aimed at the kids market.
Smartwatches usually extend functionality found in other devices like smartphones and make them available on your child’s wrist. They offer downloadable apps that can perform many of the same tasks on the watch screen as on larger devices. But of course, these devices also track our movements and our health, so we have to be a little more careful when choosing them for children.
Whichever smartwatch you choose, it’s worth talking to your child about appropriate behavior for taking and sharing photos. Also, some devices track their location and have social media options, so these should be set up carefully before handing them over to the child.
As artificial intelligence and robotics technology have become more affordable, they have been incorporated into a wide range of children’s toys. This not only provides a new interactive experience, but can also extend the life of more traditional toys with online functionality.
The robotic Sphero ball is a good example. It’s a ball that can propel itself around the room with gyroscopes and motors. It can be played interactively or driven with an associated smartphone app.
By lighting up and reacting to movement, it provides a range of educational experiences from learning colors and math to developing a basic understanding of programming. It’s the “Big Track” of the modern era – for those who remember the programmable dump truck of the 80s.
Other examples include Boxer, a programmable intelligent robot with an emphasis on evil and pleasure. He can learn different games by driving on special programming cards. Then there’s the Meccanoid build-your-own 4ft robot from the traditional toy maker Meccano.
Many of the larger toys your child will want for their birthday and Christmas will be packed with technology and can even connect to a smartphone or the internet.
This means knowing exactly what a toy does before handing it to your child to ensure it is safe. Recent popular examples include the My Friend Cayla doll and a similar Hello Barbie doll that connects to the Internet and can respond to voice requests for information through the search feature.
The Cozmo and vector Anki’s robots are two more recent examples. These toys focus as much on their ability to bond with your child as they do on any particular technological feature. They are toys with a personality that responds to interactions with great detail and will even notice when your child is staring at them or bored with the game in progress.
Virtual and augmented reality
Virtual reality (VR) is a big new trend in games. There are a number of options. While many of these games are aimed at teens and older gamers, there are some brilliant titles suitable for the young age as well.
VR headsets are worn over the eyes and ears and allow children to enter a 3D virtual world that is often, but not exclusively, interactive play. The headset tracks where the child is looking so they can move the game camera responsively.
An example is the traffic jam game. It is a multiplayer experience. Players work together to direct traffic by using hand gestures to signal the actions of cars, buses, and pedestrians. It’s an immersive and challenging way to learn teamwork.
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