Augmented Toys and Games Mature at Toy Fair 2013

As in each of the last few years Augmented Reality toys and games were very visible at Toy Fair in New York last week.

These games combine physical and digital interaction which is a fantastic way to get kids away from the traditional TV or computer screens and encourage them to interact with the physical world.

Here is a collection of Augmented products I discovered:

Barbie Digital Mirror Lets Kids Try on Makeup

Allow young kids to try out make up while avoiding all the mess. Can’t go wrong with that! The game uses the iPad camera to track faces.

Mattel Disney Princess Ultimate Dream Castle

The concept of augmenting dollhouses have been around for sometime (see Helen Papagiannis). This, I believe, is the first mass market dollhouse to support augmented reality.

Popar Books

We have seen many popup book, but Popar is the first to put so much effort into it. Popar is fully immersed in the AR industry and have product lines incorporating AR that are currently in the worldwide marketplace.

Sphero Ball And Sharky the Beaver

Orbotix introduced a fun innovation with its smartphone-controlled Sphero Ball last year. Now, they have enhanced it with an augmented reality character and matching games that augmented the ball. Leveraging robotics to create this form of augmented reality games seems like a great way to bring AR to the masses in a fun way. It overcomes many challenges facing the common AR approaches.

Imaginext Apptivity Fortress

Most of the game play still revolves around an iPad screen, but it’s an interesting attempt to combine physical and virtual play.

NeuroSky and Puzzlebox – Brain waves controlling furry ears and a quadrocopter

Wii introduced physical games to millions of living rooms, and Microsoft Kinect made our bodies the controllers for games, but NeuroSky and Puzzlebox promises to not even require a body – just your mind to play. Here is a simple but awesome example how furry ears can be controlled by your brain waves alone. Next I wish to have such a tail!

Nuko Toys and Cards

Many studies have shown that physical hands-on interaction improves learning & memory. On that premise, Nuko adds cards interaction to their games. Is it truly augmenting the experience? You’ll be the judge.

Lego Mindstorms EV3

Lego amazing user-created robots have become more sophisticated and can be controlled by various sensors, and smartphones.


Somewhat similar to Sifteo (see next), but puts more focus on sensors and mechanics while Sifteo has slicker screens and focused on games that come to life through physical interaction.


Scan Games – trigger content on smartphones with QR codes and cards

Scan Game with AFV

Codigo Cube

Last but least on our list today…it’s cool that this game leverages QR Codes as an input for a smartphone trivia game, but the use in this game seems forced. Isn’t it a better experience to simply roll the dice on the phone screen itself? It might have been a great experience if the cube itself would have been augmented with graphics that truly enhance the experience.


Toy Fair 2013 featured a really nice collection of augmented toys and games which are spear heading the use of augmented reality for the masses. What will you build next?

Edutainment is Dead: Long Live Learning Games!

Eric Klopfer, Scot Osterweil, and Katie Salen have just published a paper: Moving Learning Games Forward.

With 60 pages strong, it’s more of a mini book than a “paper” – but hey, who’s counting?

I argued before that Learning Games should be the first pin we target in the Augmented Reality bowling alley (taking a page from Crossing the Chasm). I base my arguments largely on Eric and the Learning Games Network team’s work.

In this paper they speak about the role of play in learning and the freedom it entails:

game players regularly exhibit persistence, risk-taking, attention to detail and problem solving skills, all behaviors that ideally would be regularly demonstrated in school.

And they touch on how Augmented reality games could contribute to the goal:

Augmented Reality games that embed students in realistic real world scenarios

Overall it’s a very well crafted case, with the breadth and depth to convince skeptics that games can, and should, change the way kids learn. It’s complemented with a fantastic set of references for related work.

Highly recommended.

What You Need to Build an Augmented Reality iPhone App

Want to build an Augmented Reality iPhone app?

“First, learn from others’ experiences”

OK, how many augmented reality apps can you find on the iPhone app store?


That is – none yet. Not until Apple makes public its live video API – because without live video – there is nothing really to augment.

So in the meantime, whom can we learn from?
Let’s take a look at select iPhone apps – with a special focus on kids. After all, we want the NEXT generation to get hooked on AR.

See how kids interact with iPhone apps…
See how screens are organized…
See the space required for finger touch…
See how much content can be crumbed into a screen…
See how to use the accelerometer…
See for yourself…

…and most importantly – enjoy!

Word Magic – learn to spell

Interactive book – Interactive book gone wild on the iPhone

Shapes, Colors, Sounds – that’ll keep the toddler busy for 5 minutes

Memory game – how wide is your finger?

A Fast Collection – how long do you play an iPhone app?

3 year old experience – playing through the eyes if a 3 year old

Apps for kids

iChalky – Clever use of accelerometer with a stick figure

Pinch ‘n Pop – there is a use for finger pinching besides zooming

Advanced editor – how many functions can you cram into an iPhone?

Watch more reviews on iPhone Apps for Kids

How to Get the Next Generation Hooked on Augmented Reality – Today: Part II

In my previous post “How to Get the Next Generation Hooked on Augmented Reality – Today” we explored the value of mobile educational games.

Most of these games were built for PDAs relying on a GPS, but did not include real time visuals of the real world (AR Tracking).

These PDAs are now obsolete.

In order to make it appealing for Kids, we’ll have to put in their hands something more trendy; iPhone, G1, Nokia N85, or a Mobile Internet Device (MID) come to mind.

But here’s the rub: will you give your toddler your precious smartphone? Your iPhone (God forbid) ?

What if electronics manufacturers raise to the occasion and create dedicated mobile devices for education?

Here are the Mobile Learning Devices already in progress:

One remarkable and noble project already in flight is project Inkwell.

The project’s ambitious goal is to create technology standards for the K-12 industry including defining the specifications for an Inkwell learning device. The design is by IDEO Spark.

It does not have a camera yet. But once mobile learning games break free – I am sure Inkwell will update its specs to include a camera.

Two other companies take a more commercially oriented approach (read: practical) introducing education oriented mobile devices (not yet AR enabled) such as 
VTech’s Create-A-Story

or LeapFrog’s Leapster and Didj.

These are less expensive devices that target a smaller niche.

Will these dedicated mobile learning devices be able to take a bite from the 800 pound gorillas in mobile gaming: Nintendo DS and Sony PSP ?

Will these devices drive the next generation’s Augmented Learning experience?

In my post about the new Nintendo DSi, I highlight the innovation and track record that has characterized Nintendo over the years. They will certainly fight the recent attempts in mobile learning devices with all their might.

Or will the iPhones and iClones of the world, with their massive adoption and cool factor, rule the mobile learning market after all?

What do you think?

How to Get the Next Generation Hooked on Augmented Reality – Today

Our belief:

…in 10-15 years everyone will use Augmented Reality to experience the world in a more meaningful way.

Our collective mission:

…nurture a healthy industry that will drive the adoption sooner than later.

So where do we start?

…by educating the youngest “digital natives”.

That generation is ripe and eager to try new experiences that speak their language. And that same generation will carry the AR movement to its glory.

The challenge is how to give them something they like, and at the same time offer value to those who hold the buying power  – their parents, guardians, or teachers.

Tech savvy parents and teachers tend to recognize the value of PCs and video games in educating their kids – but they hate the isolation resulting in too many hours in front of the screen.

Eric Klopfer argues in his excellent book, Augmented Learning, that we should give them mobile learning games:

These games use social dynamics and real world contexts to enhance game play…and can create compelling educational and engaging environments for learners…help develop 21 century skills…tackle complex problems…and acquire information in just-in-time fashion”

Eric doesn’t stop at arguing, he actually does what he preaches. Together with colleagues at MIT Teacher education program & the Education Arcade and in collaboration with Madison-Wisconsin and Harvard, they developed multiple mobile games (see below) – and experimented and improved them – with kids.

And they’re not alone. Researchers around the world have studied this huge opportunity and wrote about it extensively.

Future Lab in the UK is passionate about transforming the way people learn, and develop new approaches to learning for the 21st century (see games below).

Mark Billinghurst, an AR god from New Zealand’s HIT Lab, published this guide about Augmented Reality in Education.

Mike Adams ranted in 2004 about the prospects and dangers of augmented reality games in his passionate  The Top Ten Technologies: #3 Augmented Reality

Cathy Cavanaugh wrote the essay  “Augmented Reality Gaming in Education for Engaged Learning”  as the fifth chapter of a massive hand book dubbed Effective Electronic Gaming in Education. (You can get it for $695.00 at Information Science Reference.)

Cavanaugh explores a (surprisingly large) number of educational games developed in the last 4 years:

Most were designed to teach concepts in scientific systems, and the remaining AR games focus on the difficult-to-master, ill- defined domains of communication, managing data collected in the field, problem solving, and understanding cultural and historic foundations of a region.

Based on that list, here is an (alphabetical) culmination of mobile educational games in recent history:

Big Fish Little Fish (MIT)

Concepts including predator-prey dynamics, over fishing, biodiversity, evolution for school-age children.

Groups of students use handheld devices while physically interacting with each other to simulate fish feeding behavior.

Charles River City (MIT)

Outdoor GPS-based Augmented Reality game for teenagers. Players team up as experts including scientists, public health experts, and environmental specialists to analyze and solve an outbreak of illness coinciding with a major event in the Boston Metro Area.

Create-a-Scape (Future Lab)

Mediascapes are a powerful way of engaging with the world around us. Using PDAs they offer new opportunities to explore and interact with the landscape in exciting and varied ways.

Eduventure Middle Rhine (Institute for Knowledge Media)

Learning the cultural history of the Middle Rhine Valley for adults. Learners alternate between problem solving using video of the castle setting and problem exploration using mobile devices in the real castle.

Environmental Detectives (MIT)

Collaborative understanding of scientific and social aspects of threats to the environment and public health for adults. Participants role-play as teams of scientists investigating contaminated water using networked handheld devices in a field setting.

Epidemic Menace (Fraunhofer Institute)

Collaborative problem solving and experiences with learning arts for adults. Teams assume the roles of medical experts to battle a threatening virus using gaming and communication devices in a room and outdoors.

HandLeR (U. of Birmingham)

Support for field-based learning of children ages 9-11. Groups of children respond to scenarios in the field using a portable data collection and communication device.

Live Long and Prosper (MIT)

Concepts including genetics and experimental design for school-age children. Groups of students use handheld devices while physically interacting with each other to simulate the genetic actions of reproduction.

Mobi Mission (Future Lab)

Communication and reflection activities for teenagers.

Groups of students write verbal missions and respond to the missions of others using cell phones.

Mystery @ the Museum (MIT)

Collaborative thinking skills for adults and youngsters. Teams consisting of a Biologist, a Technologist and a Detective must work together to solve a crime at the Museum of Science.

Newtoon (Future Lab)

Physics principles for adolescents. Students use mobile phones and Web sites to play, create, and share games that demonstrate physics principles.

Outbreak @ MIT (MIT)

Experience with the complexities of responding to an avian flu outbreak, for young adults.

Players are brought in to investigate a potential epidemic on campus with hand-held networked Pocket PCs.

Savannah (Future Lab)

The science of living things interacting within an ecosystem, for ages 11-12. Children, acting as lions, navigate the savannah using mobile handheld devices.

Sugar and Spice (MIT)

Concepts including population economics and mathematics for school-age children. Groups of students use handheld devices while physically interacting with each other to simulate interactions between populations and resources

Virus (MIT)

Concepts including epidemics, scientific method, population growth for school-age children. Groups of students use handheld devices while physically interacting with each other to simulate the spread of disease

So what’s next?

These old games have built-in educational value, they strive to be more fun than traditional classroom lessons, and most importantly – they achieve it while detaching children from the screen.

However, none of these games has really made it to the mass market.

In order to break into the mainstream, games will have to be

  • more visual (see what you mean),
  • more intuitive (touchscreen and accelerometers – drop the Pocket PC look & feel),
  • more ubiquitous (play anywhere, anytime),
  • and they will have to run on devices that look more like an iPhone than a Newton.

Devices for education is in fact the main topic for the second part of this post.

Stay tuned. Or better yet – tell us what you think.