Robots, drones and AR: The best tech toys of 2018
Kids today are pretty spoilt when it comes to how advanced toys are getting. Robots, drones and augmented reality are all the rage, and if you're lucky you can trick them into learning some useful skills along the way. New Atlas rounds up the best tech toys of 2018, which could make for some great last-minute gift ideas for the young'un in your life.
Playshifu has taken basic wooden figurines and updated them for modern kids by – how else? – making them playable on a tablet. Available in both Monsters and Animals sets, Minglings are wooden figures with interchangeable heads that can be mixed and matched to create new critters. These can then be scanned and brought to life in an app, to play games and solve puzzles.
Compatible with iOS, Android and Kindle devices, Minglings are available for US$19.99 a set.
Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit
Technology already feels a bit magic sometimes, so why not lean right into it and dress up coding lessons in the wizarding world of Harry Potter?
The Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit is basically a programmable wand, packing a gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer to register movements as it's waved and flicked through the air. Those motions can be used to play through 70 challenges on an app, which also teaches kids how to program the wand as a motion controller, so that specific movements activate different "spells."
Normally $99, the Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit is currently on sale for $69.99.
There are plenty of kid-friendly drones buzzing around nowadays, but as usual, DJI is way ahead of the pack. The Tello is made to be simple and fun to fly, as a "first" drone that doesn't skimp on the quality.
Tello has a 13-minute flight time and can be controlled from a smartphone or a DJI controller, plus it's compatible with the company's VR headset. The little drone can pull off aerial tricks at the tap of a button, snap 5-megapixel photos and shoot video from preset flight paths like Circle. And with the Tello Edu app, kids can learn to program it too.
Tello is currently available for $79.
The Nintendo Switch is already a great games console for kids, but if you're looking for a way to make it a little more hands-on, look no further than Labo. These cardboard construction kits combine the fun of video games, the DIY satisfaction of Lego, the creativity of crafts and the sneaky education of a STEM toy.
Each Labo set includes several sheets of cardboard that you press out, fold and assemble into shapes that fit around the Switch console and controllers. The screen, motion controls, vibration and infrared sensors bring them to life as a playable piano, wearable robot suit, reelable fishing rod and a host of other physical toys. These can be used to play the included games, while some also work with other Switch titles like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Nintendo Labo is available in three kits – Variety, Robot and Vehicle – starting at $59.99.
While he may be aimed at a slightly older audience, Vector has plenty to offer kids as well. Part pet and part assistant, Anki's latest home robot can explore, play games, set timers, give weather updates, and answer some basic questions. And with his big, expressive puppy-dog eyes, it's hard not to get attached.
Vector is basically an Alexa with personality – and that's about to become even more true, with Alexa integration on the cards for early 2019. Normally $250, Vector is currently on sale for $175.
This year's version of Sphero's versatile robot ball is the Bolt. Sporting some souped-up internal gadgetry, Bolt has more of a focus on coding than other Sphero robo-balls.
The Sphero Bolt can still be driven around using an app, or used as a controller to play games on that app. Inside its transparent shell are advanced sensors that help it get around and infrared communication to let it chat to other nearby Bolts. But the most eye-catching new addition is the 8 x 8 grid of rainbow LEDs, which can be programmed to display colors, emojis and simple animations.
The Sphero Bolt is available for $149.99.
Osmo Detective Agency
If you grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, you probably remember the Where's Waldo books and the Carmen Sandiego games. Osmo Detective Agency is kind of a cross between them both.
The game combines a tablet with eight physical maps and a magnifying glass. Each map looks like a Waldo scene, and players need to find certain things – say a landmark, a villain or a lost kitten – by hovering the magnifying glass over them. The app will recognize the right object, and bring up the next clue, as well as facts about geography, history and culture.
Osmo Detective Agency is available from $39.
Iron Man AR Experience
What kid doesn't want to be Iron Man? The Hero Vision Iron Man Augmented Reality Experience lets them don the mask and fight Thanos right there in the living room.
First you slide a phone (running the Hero Vision app) into the Iron Man helmet. The phone screen shows the room in front of them, with animated characters laid over the top. Those characters are tracked by way of AR markers placed on the floor, while the child's hand movements are tracked through the "gauntlet" they wear.
The Iron Man AR Experience is available for $49.99.
Sew & Glow Kit
Here's an interesting mix – sewing and electronics. A startup called Tech Will Save Us has combined the two with the Sew & Glow Kit, which kids can use to craft badges that light up.
The set includes several squares of felt that can be cut into different shapes and sewn onto plastic badge templates. These can be made to light up using the included electro-thread, with the added bonus of teaching kids about electrical circuits.
The Sew & Glow Kit is available for $24.99.
App-controlled Lego Batmobile
No toy wish list would be complete without a Lego kit. This Lego Batmobile is not only a cool-looking vehicle to build, but once complete it can be driven around using an iOS/Android app.
The 321-piece kit is built around a Bluetooth-controlled battery hub, and the finished Batmobile has 4-wheel drive, an opening cockpit and can even fire those little Lego studs. It's all topped off with a Batman minifigure and various weapons and custom pieces to decorate the Batmobile.
The App-controlled Lego Batmobile is available for $99.99.