If you think augmented reality is just a bunch of hype with no usable applications as of yet, think again. Major toy manufacturer Mattel has just announced a new line of products tied to the upcoming 3-D adventure movie "Avatar" directed by James Cameron. While normally we wouldn't cover toys here at ReadWriteWeb, there is something special about this new lineup: these toys are integrated with augmented reality. By way of a 3-D web tag which can be scanned with any computer's webcam, the new toys are linked to an online world of content which makes them "come alive" in an entirely new way.
The "Internet of Things" Becomes Child's Play
In the past, we've looked at companies building the "internet of things," where we've discovered how everyday objects can be linked to the web using sensors, RFID, and even Twitter. In many cases, the applications of such technology are practical, such as with IBM's investment in food supply chain tracking or the web-connected bathroom scale. But web-enabled objects don't have to simply be useful - they can also be fun. The Nabaztag, for example, is an adorable little rabbit that sits on your desk delivering ambient information through lights and sounds according to changes and updates to information found on the web.
But now "augmented reality" is moving beyond the conceptual and practical stages meant to inform (or merely amuse) technology enthusiasts and is reaching out to a new generation: today's web-savvy children.
About Mattel's New Toys
According to Mattel, each action figure, vehicle, and creature in their new Avatar toy lineup will come with a 3-D web tab called an i-TAG which can be scanned using any computer webcam. After doing so, special content unique to that product will be revealed onscreen. The content will vary by toy, but will include things like biographical information, additional images, and 3D animated models showing off the action figures' "engaging, evading, or defending moves." Even better, scanning two of the i-TAGs will reveal an onscreen animation showing 3D images interacting with each other.
Although this isn't the first time we've seen augmented reality integrated into a product, this new way to "play with toys" is notable for being among the first attempts to integrate technology in what is clearly a mainstream consumer product. And a product for kids, at that.
With each new generation, children are becoming increasing comfortable with technology starting at earlier ages. Where today's kids may tote around toy computers, it seems the upcoming generation will have even more options for interacting with the web-enabled world, such as with these new internet-connected toys.
Assuming the Avatar toys are popular (and since they appeal to the comic-obsessed adult fans too, they probably will be), we'll likely see more augmented reality-powered toys like these launched in the near future.
Images of Avatar toys via TheHDRoom