Alexa-Integrated Toy Marries Tech with Screen-Free Play
Concern about the negative influence of screen time is encouraging parents to veer away from tech-infused playthings. Voice assistants, however, are promising to lure them back, by augmenting analogue toys with tech magic. We explore how KidKraft’s Amazon Echo-integrated option offers a glimpse into the hybrid future of play.
The US toy brand is developing a new play set that integrates Amazon Alexa via Echo devices. The 2-in-1 kitchen market consists of a double-sided play unit that’s kitted with fake food props, cooking utensils and a cash register. All of these accessories incorporate RFID chips that sense when they’re being used. These then trigger sound effects that bring children’s actions to life – such as the splash of food into a cooking pot, or water running from the tap.
This information is also shared with the Alexa device – which is positioned on a shelf at the centre of the play set – so that it can chime in with one of 700 different responses, including recipe suggestions, comments or jokes. Unlike previous games, where Alexa acts as rule master or score keeper (see Crafting Modern Connections), KidKraft’s offering allows the device to guide the play experience.
The ‘play mode’ dictates that the device only speaks when activated by an action, rather than when called by its name (as is customary). This enables the mic to only engage when needed – which the company hopes will ease parents’ concerns that the device might be listening.
With this launch, KidKraft is banking on parents’ aversion to screens not extending to tech altogether. The audio here lets toys retain an analogue feel, marrying the appeal of tactile play with the spectacle of digital tech.
For more on the latest trends in children’s play product, see our complete coverage of the New York Toy Fair.