Managing the kids' screen-time is a concern most parents experience, but if they're going to be staring at a tablet you might as well make sure they're doing something educational. Toy start-up PlayShifu has now unveiled Plugo, a gaming platform that hooks up to a tablet and uses a range of tactile toys to play games that will "trick" the kids into studying math or vocabulary.
The base of Plugo is what PlayShifu calls the GamePad, a dock that holds a tablet or phone and the "controllers." Those controllers come in four different types depending on which kit you play, and each one connects magnetically to the GamePad to control the games on the tablet. Each of those games is designed to teach different skills and are aimed at kids between five and 11 years of age.
Plugo Steer is a steering wheel that lets kids drive land, air and underwater vehicles, and is designed to teach kids lateral thinking skills and hone their sense of direction. Plugo Count is the math-focused module, where kids slide numbered blocks onto three prongs to make up equations.
Plugo Link involves stacking magnetic hexagonal blocks to build structures and solve puzzles, learning logical and spatial reasoning along the way. And finally Plugo Quest includes a joystick and button, which are used to play a range of games focused on reading comprehension and vocabulary building.
Each of the kits includes four different games, and PlayShifu says that new levels will be added each month. The system is compatible with Apple and Samsung tablets and phones, although the company recommends tablets as the best way to play.
PlayShifu calls Plugo an augmented reality (AR) gaming system, but we're not sure the label applies. True AR involves virtual characters or visuals superimposed over the real world, usually viewed through a camera or a smartphone. In the world of toys, that tech has been applied in the past to things like jigsaw puzzles and storybooks. Instead, Plugo seems to fit the trend of playing video games using physical toys – think Hot Wheels MindRacers, Honeybot, the PlayTable or even Nintendo Labo. Not that that makes the toys any less valid – it just seems to be a case of marketing hype jumping onboard an established buzzword.
PlayShifu is currently seeking funding for Plugo on Kickstarter, where it's already surpassed its US$25,000 target with 33 days remaining on the campaign. Early Bird pledges start at $35 for individual kits, or $99 for all four. If all goes to plan, Plugo should start shipping in March 2019.
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