Northy's Inventor Mantras: Tech toys, and where to find them

Dr Jim Wyatt

By Dr Jim Wyatt

February 19th 2015 at 1:46PM
UPDATED February 20th 2015 at 12:10PM
Northy's Inventor Mantras: Tech toys, and where to find them

This week, Dr Jim Wyatt of toy inventor company Wow! Labs is standing in for Richard North.

It is said that once upon a time an inventor could bring a great idea to a toy company on paper and that was their extent of involvement in the project. Well, I’ve been taking ideas to toy companies for 15 years now and I can’t remember a time when that ever worked out for me.

Now, I should caveat that statement with the fact that Wow! Labs tend to produce concepts for tech based products that do something new or different, such as DAVE the Monkey and RealFX Racing. So it is understandable that we might have to prove the feasibility of our idea, especially when it sounds impossible.

However, from talking to my colleagues in the industry, that kind of deal is rarely on the table these days no matter the complexity of what you are pitching.

Ultimately that means that tech inventors are now having to produce ever more elaborate proofs of concept in an industry where tech based products have more in common with consumer electronics than the toys of yesteryear.

This presents multiple challenges for inventors and toy companies alike; more time spent on proofs of concept means fewer concepts each year being produced by inventors and therefore being seen by toy companies.

Limited access to specialist toy grade micro controllers that are only available in bulk in Asia makes the task even more difficult, meaning that the independent inventor has to demonstrate their idea using 1,000s of dollars worth of prototype electronics with the hope that the toy company believes the item can be made at a reasonable cost for mass production.

More and more this type of technology is being developed by large inventor groups that have access to electronics support in Hong Kong and China or by specialist internal development groups at the toy companies themselves, such as our group, Wow! Labs.

This doesn’t mean that toy companies aren’t interested in seeing concepts from independent inventors, far from it.

Independents bring some of the freshest and most interesting ideas to the table when it comes to tech, but where as they used to bring ten ideas for clever mechanisms or game play, when it comes to tech, they are bringing just one or two.

So where will we find this new breed of inventors?

Well of course, the traditional route of toy inventors coming to us is still, and always will be, wide open, but with new technologies emerging all the time, inventors may not see applications for their brainchild in the toy industry as they may be too busy focusing on other market sectors that they are more familiar with.

The world has changed a lot in ten years and as an industry we clearly need to start casting our net further afield and being proactive in seeking out new ideas rather than assuming that the best ideas will come to us.

Often it is the “Makers” and the “Doers” that are employed in industries adjacent to ours as part of their day jobs that are just having fun on weekends and showing off their projects at fairs and online. Others are forging their own path on Kickstarter, Indiegogo and at industry shows or perhaps, even like myself and others at Wow! Stuff, are academics that just want to get their cutting edge research into the hands of a wider audience.

It’s up to us to go out there and find these inventors and make them aware of the opportunities in our $80 billion market as, sadly, they are probably not reading this article in a toy trade publication.

Just remember, they could easily be in possession of the next Moshi, Skylanders or RealFX.

So until Rich gets back from Australia next week, whatever you do, don’t just watch this space…