It’s that most wonderful time of the year when holiday marketing hits a feverish pitch and your children’s wish lists always seem to have that one must-have item that immediately goes out of stock. In recent years, many of those items are interactive, smart devices. Here’s a run-down of some of this year’s most popular smart toys flying off the shelves and then a few comments about what every parent needs to consider before you buy.
2017 Hot Holiday Smart Toys
If your child is yearning for a sophisticated robot that reminds you of the movie Wall-E’s main character, the collector’s edition of cosmo just might be on their list. There’s a lot of tech packed into cosmo’s coffee-cup-sized shape and includes 1.2 million lines of code and a hidden camera in its mouth. Young coders can use their smart device to make cosmo follow a set of actions.
The Luvabella Interactive Baby Doll, by the makers of Hatchimals, one of the hottest toys last year, learns as your child plays with her. Luvabella reacts and interacts when you play with her, tickle her toes and feed her. Her motions and reactions are very life-like and she can learn more than 100 words and phrases.
Children can build five different models with the Lego Boost kit including Vernie the robot that comes to life via an app. When your child speaks to Vernie it will respond with facial expressions and can also move in all directions, make hand gestures, senses and reacts to impacts, and more.
Fingerlings Interactive Baby Monkeys have elevated finger puppets to an entirely new level. They curl around your finger, respond to touch and your voice with more than 40 animations. At around $15, everybody wants one.
If you’ve got a Star Wars fan on your list, a 14-inch tall BB-8 will make them feel like the Force is with them. There’s radio control, voice commands and “follow me” modes that make this BB-8 feel as real as if it had just rolled out of the movie.
This year’s version of Hatchimals is the Hatchimals Surprise and they are twins! After their owners nurture them by tapping their eggshell, talking to it and cuddling it, they hatch and you can raise them through three stages of life—baby, toddler and kid. The Hatchimals interact with each other and can record their owner’s voice.
Sphero’s robotic Spider-man has all the tech tools—motion-activated sensors, speech-recognition and LCD eyes—that make it seem like you’re hanging out with the real deal. He’s able to tell 100 jokes and 20 stories and even interact with the latest Spider-man cartoon on Disney XD.
What to Know Before You Buy
These smart toys are able to do all of these things because it makes use of smart technologies such as voice recognition and machine learning made possible by the internet of things. Before you run out to the store and purchase any of these for your children, there are some things to consider.
With all the benefits—and fun—that is possible with internet of things devices, there are also some risks to privacy and security. Internet of Things: Privacy & Security in a Connected World, a report from the Federal Trade Commission, states that just 10,000 households can generate 150 million data point every day. Ultimately, this makes sensitive information more vulnerable and creates entry points for hackers.
In Germany, the interactive Cayla doll was taken off the market because its Bluetooth connection and built-in microphone made it vulnerable to hacking. In fact, Germany’s Federal Network Agency bans children’s smartwatches because of concerns they are spying devices. Echoing similar concerns, the Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) identified that some watches had flaws in transmitting and storing data without encryption. Without encryption the watches were vulnerable to very basic hacking techniques. Children could be tracked or appear to be in an entirely different location. The watches that were designed to protect them could raise significant security concerns.
Research is also being done regarding the implications for children’s intelligence, cognitive development and social behaviour when they use smart devices and toys that blur the line between make believe and reality.
Be mindful to read the terms of service of the toys and devices that you use. Even though most of these will say they won’t use the data it collects from your child’s toys, the possibility is there and you should be informed how it will be used before you buy.
Since the internet of things isn’t going away, and next year’s holiday wish list will likely have smart toys that are even more sophisticated than this year’s, continue to get informed about the risks involved with new technology so that you can communicate to your child your expectations and family rules around smart devices such as never sharing personal information on the internet.