Digital | ON: TECH

Techie gifts for creative kids

It’s the festive season and whether you take Christmas day off or not in Japan, kids will still be excited about Santa. This month introduces a few next-generation techy toys that are great for children but will probably be fun for the parents, too.

Cardboard box robots

Next year will see a few changes to the Japanese elementary school curriculum, including the addition of mandatory programming classes. Takara Tomy’s robot toy Embot anticipates this by helping kids learn programming in a fun way.

Conceived by 39works, NTT Docomo’s new business creation program, the Embot looks more like a DIY cardboard box cat robot than a piece of high tech — and in a sense it is. The figure is made from cardboard pieces, but hidden inside are a number of techy core parts — buzzers, LEDs and servo motors. Children assemble the Embot themselves and can program it to move its arms via an app. A simple visual programming language makes it easy for them to understand and, since it’s an app, they can do all this with a smartphone or tablet.

For creative kids who maybe prefer to make things than play with computers, it’s a gentle introduction to programming. The cardboard exterior allows them to decorate it with whatever they like, and there are various ways that it can be customized to make its arm movements more entertaining, including a rubber-band gun.

Priced at ¥6,600, the Embot runs on four AAA batteries and is aimed at kids aged 8 and over, but there’s nothing to stop adults playing with it, too.

bit.ly/Embotcat (Japanese only)

Keeping the program going

Sony’s educational toy platform Toio was launched in March this year, but already has released several expansion packs that offer children various additional games to play.

Originally developed by Sony’s in-house entrepreneurship support project, and released via a crowdfunding site as a prototype, the latest general consumer version of Toio has new hardware. It consists of a small cuboid robot called a Toio core cube and comes with two ring-shaped controllers and a console. It looks like it’s just a radio controlled robot — but it’s much more.

Children use Toio to learn programming, which involves combining “instruction cards” to move the Toio cube. A picture book is included to help kids learn the basics of programming needed to do this, but it’s quite easy. To teach the cube a series of moves, simply place it on top of the cards in the order chosen. More complicated programs can be created with different combinations of cards. Once children get used to programming using the cards, they can move on to visual programming languages and more advanced techniques by using a PC to control the cube. Not only this, but if they get tired of just controlling the cube’s movements, the various expansion kits allow children to create more complex games themselves.

This is the most expensive of this month’s selection at ¥18,678, but it’s available at numerous outlets so may be found cheaper, and the expansion kits offer plenty of new learning opportunities.

toio.io (Japanese only)

Dance to the English beat

For parents wanting to prepare children for the addition of English classes to the upper grades of Japanese elementary schools, Sega Toys’ Wonderful Channel is an energetic option.

Wonderful Channel teaches English vocabulary through dancing. A dog-shaped camera connects to a home TV monitor so that kids can see themselves on screen immersed in video content, while motion sensors and an augmented reality function transform their movements into colorful imagery. Any number of people can play this at the same time, so parents are welcome to join in.

Aimed at children aged 3 and above, there are more than 60 games to play, the choice of which can be tailored to the player’s age and English ability.

Included in the Wonderful Channel kit, priced at ¥14,300, is a paw-like remote control, and the whole device runs on AA and AAA batteries, making it easily portable.

bit.ly/wonderfuleng (Japanese only)

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