The Vanishing Line between Engineering and Toys

I had the privilege last week to attend the 113th International North America Toy Fair in New York City. For me, the show is a personal thrill to attend. As I have mentioned in a previous blog, I partially owe my pursuits in engineering to the toys I owned growing up. I was amazed to see the amount of STEM and STEAM toys at the fair this year. I had attended the show last year, but in just one year I would say that the amount of STEM-focused educational toys doubled. But what is even more surprising is how many engineering concepts I saw in today’s toys.

Right before attending the Toy Fair, I was in Anaheim for the Pacific Design Show. Many companies in attendance had on display their new lines of products and this year robotics was a dominant theme, along with 3D printing and assembly automation. At the Pacific Design Show, there were pick-and-place robotic arms like Baxter and Swayer from Rethink Robotics, programmable collaborative robots like the robotics arms from Universal Robots, and autonomous robots like the ones from Omron. So when I got back from Anaheim and headed to the Toy Fair in New York, what did I see but the same exact technology in kids’ toys?

There were toys that had the same program functions as a Universal Robot, allowing for place and record movements via a tablet app. In today’s toy market, there are robotic arms, modular robotic assemblies, 3D printing toys, code-teaching robot games, and autonomous robot toys. In particular, the Jimu robot from UBTECH impressed me the most.

This robot is completely collaborative. The child is placing the robot in specific positions and recording them via their tablet. The robot then interpolates the required transitions between positions to reach the end of its programming. This style of toy is teaching kids how to program modern robotics like Universal Robots’ robotic arms, which is programmed using the same exact method.

To read the rest of this article, published in Machine Design, please click here.