Sure, robotic toys encourage STEM learning. But the real secret is how much support they offer to children with special needs, says Ladislas de Toldi, the 20-something founder of Leka (leka.io), a robotic smart toy that changes the way children with developmental disorders learn, play and progress.
As the ever-changing tech-toy market continues to evolve, customers are turning to specialty toy retailers for their expertise on finding tech toys to meet their children’s unique needs. Ladislas told us what specialty retailers should know to sell robotic toys in their stores.
Everyone’s talking about “tech toys” and their impact on STEM learning. But we can’t be so broad – there are countless categories of tech. How does robotics fit into, and differentiate, in the “tech toy” market?
Robotic toys are more focused on mechanics, therefore fostering an interest in engineering. There’s a specific focus on how the toy works, whether through coding, assembling or actually playing with it.
Unlike other tech toys, robots are guided with a human element, allowing for a more interactive experience, which teaches children social skills. For example, if children are insecure talking to people because they don’t understand social cues, they’ll likely be more receptive to an interactive robot, because over time they can predict its actions and learn which cues mean the robot’s happy, sad or angry.
What tips do you have for specialty toy retailers selling robotic toys?
Robots are more predictable in their actions, so they lend themselves perfectly to children who have developmental disorders like autism, or children who have general difficulty in social and emotional learning. These robots, particularly humanoid robots or robots with personified features, allow children to relate socially to the robot, something many children with developmental disorders aren’t able to do with actual human beings. Robotic toys help children to bridge the social gap between technology and people.
What’s trending in robotics, what’s next?
As robotics continues to develop in the toy industry, features are being added to continuously improve these gadgets. Internet connectivity is one. For example, the CogniToys Dino is connected to the Internet and uses interactive dialogue to help speech development. Many are also integrating Cloud technology.
Artificial intelligence is being seen in newer robotic toys to create that humanoid element. With Leka, we have a monitoring platform that is connected to the Cloud to record a child’s learning progress, and share it between parents, therapists and teachers to track development over time.
Ladislas graduated from the School of Industrial Biology in Paris with a degree in Biotech Engineering. He designed Leka as an interactive tool to make communication between therapists, parents and children easier, more efficient and more accessible.
Keep these tech toys on your radar
1. Dash and Dot from Wonder Workshop are a pair of cute, little programmable robots that make music and drive around. Best of all, the robot serves as a picture-based coding language built for kids.
2. OWI 14-in-1 Solar Robot teaches kids how to create solar-powered robots, with two levels of building skills to accommodate different ages. The robots walk or roll around and are powered by the sun, so no batteries required!
3. Ollie from Sphero is like a remote-controlled car turned robot! It’s app-enabled to launch and spin across the floor at warping speeds. Kids can also customize it with tires, hubcaps and personalized tricks.
4. Vortex from DFRobot combines physical activity and virtual play. Kids interact with their toy robot while also programming and inventing their own commands and games, all via their smartphone or tablet.
5. Geckobot from Thames & Kosmos won in ASTRA’s Best Construction Toy for Kids category this year. The wall-climbing robot has a motorized air suction system, so it walks vertically on surfaces like glass and plastic. The battery-powered motor drives a rotating gear system, mimicking a real gecko. Kids can build six other models to learn about suction, air pressure and mechanical physics: a robotic arm with gripper, crawling inch worm, smartphone holder, suction tow truck and car, ellipsograph and suction gun.
6. SPRK+ from Sphero is more than a robot – it combines connected play and coding. Powered by the Lightning Lab app, kids can learn programming, complete hands-on activities, navigate mazes, program paintings, mimic the solar system, share their creations and collaborate.
7. Build the Robot is a 32-page book that gives kids all kinds of background on robots. It also includes 62 slotted model pieces and three wind-up motors, so they can build different types of moving robots.