Toys Of The Future Are Here

Posted: March 04, 1986

It's often said that toys are designed to appeal as much to adult buyers as to the child-recipients of the playthings.

When it comes to techno toys, that grownup appeal goes double. At the recent American Toy Fair in New York, this grownup gadgeteer was regularly inspired to take out the charge card and buy-buy-buy, entranced by the latest in sound and vision, mechanical and computerized toys.

However, the Toy Fair is "wholesale only," and many of the products introduced there by manufacturers won't actually be available until spring or summer. So we'll just have to wish and wait for the following techno treats to show up on the shelves.

Fisher-Price makes the sturdiest and best-sounding portable record player, tape recorder and walkie-talkie in the business, so I'm confident the latest additions to the company's audio/visual line will be up to snuff. Especially neat is the "Creative Music Maker." It's a unique cordless microphone- transmitter with a built-in keyboard that combines the creativity of music making with the fun of singing over the radio. Children (of all ages) can store up to 79 notes on the music maker's memory chip, then play back the composition through an FM radio, and simultaneously sing along, too! Eight songs are pre-programmed in, and there's a companion songbook that's child's play to use with the device's letter- and number-coded keyboard buttons.

Also new from Fisher-Price are a snappy looking pair of three-power binoculars in a shock-resistant yellow case, and a 30-power, internally lit microscope - the "Micro Explorer Set" - which comes complete with 90 images pre-programmed on slides, plus all the lab tools necessry to collect and study your own specimens.

The Fisher Price "Door Alarm" makes sure your small fry won't go exploring without warning, while a "Musical Light Dimmer" lulls a baby to sleep with up to 60 minutes of musical tinkling and s-l-o-w-l-y lowering light.

Another neat touch in baby electronic toys is Johnson & Johnson's "Voice Activated Crib Mobile," which responds to a baby's sounds (encouraging, ahem, ''self-actualization") by playing music and turning four visually stiumlating panels.

Amateur sleuths and snoops will jump for a CIA-styled parabolic ear evesdropping device to be marketed by Spectravideo International and Coleco (the latter as the "Rambo Electronic Spy Scope"). Conversations up to 20 feet away can be detected by the hand-held parabolic dish with microphone. An amplifier is built into the unit's pistol grip, and an earphone is supplied for secrecy's sake.

Two new babies have been born to Tomy's expanding robot family. ''Crackbot" goes crazy when activated with a handclap. "Dustbot" doesn't just sweep, but actually vacuums up particles such as eraser dust.

Even more lifelike are the horde of computerized dollies and furry creatures coming out this year. Their gesticulated facial and body movements and ability to carry on conversations are activated by light, sound and motion sensors and 2 to 8 kilobytes of solid state memory.

Like Axlon's popular "A.G. Bear," the new "Grandpaw A.G." and "Grandmaw A.G." listen and respond in "Beartalk." Their faces are also adorably animated, and when you plug in an ordinary tape player and play any old tape, Grandpaw or Grandmaw will speak with the voice of a favorite storyteller or singer.

New to Axlon's Petster automated pet line is Robo Pup. This high tech, rivet head creature takes sound-activated commands to move, bark or whimper;

explores on his own with bump and object sensors; displays a variety of personalities, and can memorize/replay a series of actions and sounds.

Lewis Galoob Toys is venturing heavily into electronic, interactive "Talk- A-Tronic" toys, each with a semiconductor brain that goes right to a kid's heart. "Jibber Jabber" monkeys react to light by chirping and jabbbering. Pick one up and their voices change, rising in pitch with excitment or cooing as you calm them with a hug. Their eyes flash in sync with their sounds, and if you say something to a Jibber Jabber he speaks right back.

Galoob's "Smarty Bear" is billed as "the world's first answer bear." Ask a question and (through the magic of technology) he'll respond positively - first moving his eyebrows and mouth and "hmmmming" as he ponders the question, then spouting out one of 16 different phrases in hundreds of combinations. Smarty Bear complains when turned upside-down and knows to take a nap (saying "Goodnight" and shutting off his batteries) when his answers are not in demand. He even has a secret tickle spot that makes him giggle. And he can talk back to characters on specially prepared videotapes, when wired up to a VCR through a special talk box.

Similarly lifelike (verging on scary) features are also found in Galoob's ''Baby Talk."

Ohio Art's "Etch a Sketch" drawing tablet is going brainy this year, with a computerized memory storage version. Use it to develop an animated cartoon with upward of 92 frames.

To sound like Darth Vader, just strap on SpectraVideo's "Voice Modulator," a futuristic mask that turns a wearer's speech into one of three robotic sounds.

For sending secret messages to a friend - upward of a quarter of a mile away - nothing beats Tech-Quest's "Sound on Light." It's an electro-optical system that transmits voices on a modulated beam of light.

The videocassette recorder is becoming a different sort of plaything for young and old alike this year. Milton Bradley is introducing "Candyland" and ''Chutes and Ladders" VCR games that combine the fun of board games with VCR action when the characters come to life. Designed for ages 3-6, the games progress in skill level through a 30-minute tape to help retain short attention span. And in the event a child doesn't want to play along, the video serves as a private show.

Historic news clips are the heart of Parker Brother's VCR game ''Eyewitnesss, The VCR Newsreel Challenge." Teams watch minute-long news

snippet, then try to stump the opposition with questions about the news event.

More than 100 vintage clips in 15 different categories are included on the two hour cassette tape.

Matchbox is getting into the videocraze with a "Robotech Video Wars Playset." Included are a 60-minute tape and two toys - a Vertitech "giant" fighter and a Tactical Battlepod space ship. Two half-hour video stories encourage interactive play patterns between screen action and the toys.

And first off the production line in Pressman's VCR Gallery of Games are ''Doorways to Adventure" and "Doorways to Horror." Both combine technology and classic game play - with classic Hollywood film clips on tape, plus playing cards, special game dice, play money and more.

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