Sure They’re Fun, But I Don’t Get the Obsession with Robotic Toys
Maybe it’s due to a lack of a childhood imagination. Perhaps it’s due to my inability to enjoy anything remotely fun. Whatever the reason, I just don’t get the obsession that everyone—or at least the tech industry media—seems to have with robotic toys. So, imagine how wonderful it was for me to see so many of them launch in Berlin at IFA 2017.
Some of the major announcements made at IFA include the new BB-9E Star Wars robot from Sphero and Ubtech’s Alpha 1S robot. And though they’re cool tech gadgets that kids might get a kick out of, I’m not sure they deserve all of the hype that they’re getting.
For starters, they’re incredibly difficult to get used to. Maneuvering them isn’t easy and tends to be confined to some odd-shaped controller that doesn’t make much sense. We experienced as much when testing out a Lightning McQueen robot in the Sphero booth. Pushing the controller in one direction often resulted in the opposite reaction from the toy robot than what you were expecting. Other times, it did exactly what you asked it to. Once we got the hang of driving the thing, we had some fun running over the new BB-9E, sending the thing’s head across the table. However, the experience ended in a rather disappointing fashion that would’ve resulted in a DNF (did not finish) if McQueen were in an actual race.
Price is another factor hindering my overall excitement around the space. These things don’t come cheap. The new Sphero drone, for example, will run parents (or enthusiasts) $150. That’s a steep price for a tiny ball that rolls around and can lose its head, and that requires a smartphone in order to operate—movements are controlled through an app. BB-9E can interact with other Star Wars themed robots or follow its “trainer” around, but there really isn’t a whole lot else going on with the thing.
The Ubtech Alpha 1S Humanoid Robot runs at a much steeper $460, but does have the added benefit of teaching kids some very basic programming. Still, it’s a product that requires a smartphone to operate and, in the grand scheme of things, is limited in functionality.
Let’s be honest, these are toys that—in a matter of a few weeks or months—will end up collecting dust on a shelf or deep in the bowels of some toy closet.
But don’t let my glum mindset on this market deter you from adding toy robot toys to your product lineup. Right now, the excitement around them presents an opportunity for retailers. According to a recent report from MarketsandMarkets, the global programmable robots market (which includes those that are designed for education and entertainment) is expected to reach around $2.4 billion by 2020.