museums&MORE Spring 2016
High-Tech Play By Zeke Jennings

As technology advances, toys follow

Technological advances are coming by leaps and bounds in the 21st century, and the toy world is no different. Parents want to feel good about the toys they purchase for their children by knowing products are educational in addition to just being high-tech and cool.

Museums & More takes a look at three relatively companies making waves in the world of tech toys.


tiggly_math_lifestyleBased in New York, Tiggly was founded in 2012 by a trio of Ivy Leaguers: Phyl Georgiou and Bart Clareman, both of whom hold a master’s degree from Harvard Business School, and Dr. Azi Jamalian, an adjunct professor at Columbia’s Teachers College.

Tiggly Learning Systems are a collection of apps in the categories of shapes, math and words geared toward ages 2 through 8. They come with toys that allow children to interact with the images onscreen. Once downloaded to a tablet, WiFi or Bluetooth is no longer required to operate. Retail price is approximately $30 per app.

Since debuting in 2013, the Tiggly apps have been lauded by the toy industry, including winning awards from Academics’ Choice, Parents’ Choice Foundation and Creative Child Magazine, and being finalist for the 2015 Toy of the Year Awards. In addition, the research firm PlayCollective conducted a study of 4- and 5-year-olds by having them use Tiggly math apps and toys for two weeks. The children’s basic math skills improved an average of 21 percent at the end of the two weeks, according to pre- and post-test studies.

Such improvement in a relatively short amount of time is very impressive for any learning tool, especially if played in a home setting without any formal teacher guidance,” said Dr. Alison Bryant, Co-CEO and Chief Play Officer at PlayCollective.

Tiggly co-founder Dr. Azi Jamalian, who holds a PhD in Cognitive Studies in Education, said the company’s goal is to “create a learning journey, lasting from toddlers at 18 months all the way to 6- or 7-year-olds. Those are the age groups where physical play is critical to the development of motor and spatial skills.”


PieceMaker is unique in that it’s not a toy but a 3-D printing kiosk that allows children to design and print toys from their imagination. The printing kiosk, which debuted in 2013, comes from Carnegie Mellon University graduates Arden Rosenblatt and Alejandro Sklar, who still reside in Pittsburgh.

“PieceMaker discovered an opening whereby with the swipe of a finger, anyone can 3-D print a customized piece right in store in 30 minutes or less,” director of marketing Pam Israel said. “It’s also a win for the retailers because there’s no back-of-house inventory. They never have unwanted pieces because they aren’t created until someone orders them.”

Whether inspired by a child’s imagination or an exhibit or animal they’ve just seen, PieceMaker allows kids to create their own toys. “We’ve often talked about having pieces inspired directly from a museum’s collection, such as a neat artifact,” Israel said. “Depending on the piece, kids could put a comment or name on it, or maybe they could customize the piece within parameters that the museum likes. I would also like getting a zoo or aquarium’s signature animals into our catalog so kids can bring home a custom piece from their visit. The possibilities are really endless.”

Israel said PieceMaker is flexible when working with prospective buyers. “We’ve partnered in slightly different ways with retailers, but we usually will do some kind of revenue share in addition to considering other factors,” she said.

Odyssey Toys

Odyssey Toys offers high-tech drones, flying machines and land vehicles toward the bigger kid. Odyssey products help advance hand-eye coordination, said president and founder Sal Irigoyen. They are geared toward ages 14 and up, although some of the smaller models are appropriate for children as young as 8 years old.

“A great feature of our toys is they help children with hand-eye coordination as they see the flying machines in the air and have the ability to control them using the corresponding remote control,” Irigoyen said. “It helps them learn balance and control …become familiar with weather patterns and the effect it has on objects in the air. For example, if it is a very windy day and the child is trying to control one of our products, the ability to fly straight can be impacted. This helps children understand the impact of weather and brings what they are learning in school to real life.”

The most popular models from the Miami-based company include the X-7 Microlite micro drone, which measures about 6-by-6-inches and retails for nearly $100, the larger Galaxy Seeker drone, which has a mounted camera and retails around $250, and the medium-sized Neptune Video Streamer drone, which is described as being lightweight and super maneuverable. It retails around $130.

HED: Spin Master robot wins TIA’s best innovative toy of the year honor

Innovative Toy of the Year Award winner and nominees of the Toy Industry’s Association’s 16th annual Toy of the Year Awards ceremony, which was held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York on Feb. 12, 2016. The award was described as “the best toy that combines the most unique blend of innovative technology and play value for children today.”

  • Winner: Meccanoid G15 by Spin Master Ltd.
  • Nominees: Flipsies Sandy’s House & Ocean Cruiser by VTech, iIoom by Wooky Entertainment, Laser Maze Jr. by ThinkFun Inc., Makey Makey Classic by JoyLabz, MiPosaur by WowWee and Star Wars Science – Jedi Force Levitator by Uncle Milton Industries.

“Spin Master is transforming the business of play,” said Ben Gadbois, Global President and COO, Spin Master Ltd. “Building on 2015, we are thrilled to dive into 2016 with innovations that are bigger and better than ever.”

Other tech toys honored included Hexbug’s VEX Robotics Robotic Arm for Educiational Toy of the Year, Disney’s Infinity 3.0 Edition for e-Connected Toy of the Year and Fisher-Price’s Bright Beats Dance & Move BeatBo for Infant/Toddler Toy of the Year.

For the full list of winners, visit

Zeke Jennings

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