- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

NEW YORK — This year’s American International Toy Fair brought more than 20,000 buyers to the February frozen tundra, also known as New York City, to seek out the hottest children’s products for the year.

For many of the more than 1,200 exhibitors at this year’s event, which is in its 104th year, the melding of toy and technology is no longer a trend but the standard.

Examples of traditional products, from a baby doll to board games, infused with computer microchips, robotics and Internet connectivity jumped out from nearly every booth and showroom.

Amidst the rows of colorful and interactive displays in the Javits Convention Center also can be found the source of the tech revolution, the inventor, who hopes his or her creation can become part of a child’s busy life.

Such is the case of Gwen Austin Yuff, a mother with a background in industrial design and a master’s degree in computer information who has turned a school project into a new toy category of creativity.

As a student at the Colorado Institute of Art more than 10 years ago, she had a class assignment simply to create a toy that moved 12 inches. The result was a creature that combines radio-controlled technology with an artistic twist.

“It was actually sitting on a shelf for some time,” Mrs. Yuff says. “I have two little girls, and I really want them to do everything in their life that they can. I cannot tell them to go out and pursue their dreams if my dreams are sitting in a box in a basement.”

With the RC Color Bug ($24.99, available in the fall for children 4 and older), users can snap a marker or crayon into the front of the fist-sized insect and use a controller to maneuver the insect to draw lines on appropriate surfaces. (The play-set package includes 30 pieces of 16-by-22-inch paper.) It comes with an interchangeable shell and markers and is available in two radio frequencies so a pair of designers can team up and make a masterpiece.

Here are just a few of the other tech-toy marvels seen at the weeklong event that are scheduled to come out this year.

• The puzzle created by Hungarian inventor Erno Rubik gets a tech infusion after 32 years of existence with Techno Source’s Rubik’s Revolution ($19.99). Instead of twisting a cube of smaller cubes to match colors on each of its sides, players follow a colored light embedded on each side along with sound and voice effects from this non-twistable cube to play six games. Speed and smarts still are required and also some battery power.

• Tiger Electronics lets children rock and roll all night and brush multiple times during the day with its Tooth Tunes brand of brushes. The brilliant idea transmits music from the brush through the teeth to the jawbone so it can be heard in the inner ear.

Tiger’s vice president of marketing, Jeff Jackson, who focuses on all things ‘tween-related, says the brush uses the company’s “patented dental mandibular sound transduction technology” to deliver the magic. For history buffs, this type of technology was seen back in 1999 in a line of lollipops embedded with music chips that were heard during a lick.

Each Tooth Tunes includes a two-minute snippet (the time recommended by dentists for brushing) from what ‘tweens consider to be the hippest of bands, such as the Cheetah Girls, Hannah Montana, Black Eyed Peas and Kelly Clarkson, as well as classic legends such as KISS.

The company also has the Power Tour Guitar ($69.99) to inspire youths to begin a path down the road to rock stardom. The small-hands-friendly instrument is loaded with 12 songs and can hook into an MP3 player for owners to jam along.

Touch sensors and multicolored LED lights replace strings, while on-board tutorials patiently expose players to parts of the songs.

The guitar has a distinct Gibson SG design and can be set to sound from the metal, punk, rock and indie genres. Tune selection includes Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” and Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.”

• The promise to “get kids up off of the couch” was made ad nauseam at Toy Fair. Fisher-Price delivers a no-brainer item in the form of an affordable stationary bike that turns exercise into a video game. Its Smart Cycle ($99.99) plugs into a television’s A/V jacks and becomes a multimedia arcade experience as the 3- to 6-year-old begins to pedal. It comes with one software title that contains a trio of racing and learning games, with additional software available ($19.99 each) for Junior to interact within the worlds of SpongeBob, Barbie and Diego.

m A company known for slick pirates and dragons building-block sets, Mega Brands, expands into robotics with Brian the Brain ($99.99).

Imagine a head similar to that of a “Mars Attacks” alien encased in a translucent helmet sitting on a desk. This “self-contained animatronic life-form with an attitude” uses voice-recognition software, motion sensors, a speaker, LEDs and a keypad to interact with his new friend, the toy user.

He can play games, amplify music (plug in an MP3 player), ask questions and retain information and has in his neural processor the complete Encyclopaedia Britannica. He also acts as an integrated speaker phone and is more than happy to make a call.

However, children should not be surprised if the sometimes annoying companion butts into conversations.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected] times.com).

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