An interesting number of companies at CES 2016 tried to tackle the issue of how kids use technology for gaming. Instead of taking kids away from technology, two companies in particular found interesting ways to integrate technology with off-screen gaming experiences, giving kids a way to play while in brand new, yet familiar ways. While both companies aim at young children, A-Champs provides a new way to play outside, while Makerbloks brings a fresh take on the old-school electronics kit.
A-Champs debut product is called ROXs, a series of programmable sensors like oversized buttons that kids can spread around the yard or strap to themselves using the included straps. Of course, since they’re made for outdoor play with children, the sensors are exceptionally durable and withstand being hit, thrown, stepped on and more. Using the central controller, kids can program the ROXs to play games like “Crazy Chicken,” a race that makes players sprint from sensor to censor as fast as they can, tagging each one for points.
There’s also “Zombie Tag,” where players strap ROXs to themselves and chase each other; some players’ sensors will make zombie noises and their goal is to tag all of the non-infected players, with the last player standing being the winner. There are even target practice modes where players can hook ROXs to specific locations and try to hit as many as possible with toys like soccer balls, footballs, or whatever they find laying around. The ROXs set pre-programmed with 12 games, while kids and adults can download more games from the A-Champs platform.
A-Champs CEO Kilian Saekel says that A-Champs is about letting kids use their imaginations to come up with the games they want to play off-screen, calling ROX the “first off-screen game console.” “If we really want to get the kids to be active, we need to engage them and entertain them the same way as video games,” Saekel told me at CES 2016. “We cannot focus on saying, ‘You need to be active,’ we just need to focus on the fun factor and giving them an awesome time. If they have an awesome time, they don’t really realize that they’re doing something good for themselves.”
Since the ROXs master controller is programmable, Saekel hopes to include new content, both branded from other companies, as well as user-created games. The base ROXs kit comes with three sensors, and is marketed for kids ages 6-10, but up to 50 ROXs can link to a single central controller, giving great options for all types of groups to use them.
MakerBloks, in contrast, provides learning and experiences for kids that fuses with an on-screen experience, providing kids the opportunity to learn about electronics using magnetic blocks that light up, make noise, and more. Like electronics kits from the 70s, MakerBloks gives kids projects they can tackle by creating circuits using blocks that represent real electronics components like diodes, resistors, and capacitors. Each block is marked with the actual schematic symbol for those pieces, teaching kids real-world knowledge about electronics. During the CES demo, Co-Founder and COO Malika Srivastava showed off the iPad digital activity book that guides kids as they help Gabby, a young girl living in Maker City.
After reaching a puzzle section in the activity book, players use the bloks to create the correct circuits. All the lights, switches, and sounds are present right on the blocks, so kids don’t have to interact with the tablet at all when solving puzzles. Once the correct circuit is assembled, the digital book unlocks the next section automatically, allowing kids to continue on with the story. Though MakerBloks currently only has their first electronic module, they plan to expand with additional electronics activity books which can be purchased through the App Store, along with additional subject modules like math and chemistry, each of which will come with new MakerBloks.
Both A-Champs and Makerbloks impressed me as companies with their aims to change the ways that kids relate to technology. Even as an avid gamer, the physical activity that comes from playing outdoor sports or exercising comes with a special reward. As we learn more about the negative effects of sedentary lifestyles too, it’s important to make sure we help kids find enjoyable, engaging ways to play and learn in physical space. Fear not, as your health-conscious Popzara Pals will keep you posted as we learn more innovative ways to keep kids engaged, learning, and having fun.