After 13 years in the toy wilderness, Sony is back in the kid fun game. The Japanese electronics company announced yesterday at the International Tokyo Toy Show that it’s debuting a new robotic remote-controlled building block, called Toio Cube. This pretty big news, as Sony hasn’t released a new toy since 2004 when it discontinued its language learning helper, The Talking Card. But what about the PlayStation, you ask? That’s solid by subsidiary Sony Interactive Entertainment ⏤ it doesn’t count. Toio is a major release for the company — and it looks to be a big one.
At first glance, Toio looks like a small white cube. Nothing too crazy. Grab one of the ring-shaped remote controls it comes with and rotate your wrist, however, and the block scurries across a tabletop. Toio is sold as a pair (two cubes, two remotes, and a charging station), can sense proximity to one another to avoid crashes, and can be programmed rather than driven if your wrist gets tired. Or you want your kids to learn something other than how to race a car.
But it’s not Toios purpose to simply motor across a table. As even the most creative kid is going to get bored driving a white block around the kitchen, Toio is designed to be dressed up with LEGOs and paper cut outs. In other words, the cubes are just the base — it’s up to the kids to create something cooler. To that end, craft kits will be sold separately to help spur creativity.
Sony isn’t new to robotics. Back in the ’90s they sold one of the most popular robot toys in the world, the Aibo Robotic Dog. In fact, the Aibo sold out in only 20 minutes in 1999 ⏤ yea, it was fidget-spinner hot. But times have changed, and STEM-fueled robotics construction toys are a fast growing market. Smaller companies like Sam Labs, Circuit Cubes, Ziro, CellRobot, and Modular Robotics have all emerged with similar toys designed to give kids an early edge in engineering. There are also several, such as GoBrix and MeeperBOT, designed specifically to turn LEGOs in action toys.
That said, Sony says it sees Toio as the beginning of its reentry into the toy industry and reportedly has other projects in the works. Toio goes on sale December 1 in Japan for 20,000 yen ($182) and worldwide distribution will be tied to its success. Although, right now the company has no plan to distribute it outside the Land of the Rising Sun. Either way, it’s nice to see Sony back in the game.