The Future of Play

Humans play, finding sources of fun in almost any activity. Children come up with amazing stories with made-up characters and settings, usually an extension of role-playing. Their imagination combines what they know from the real world, filling up the holes when they need to. Flying trains are OK, going around the world in a few seconds is of course possible and we have not even reached any fantasy land yet.

The point is that there is a step in the development of the child where most of them stop creating their stories, their worlds, their characters, their rules and instead find entertainment in crafted experiences designed by others. Those experiences offer deep worlds to explore, established relationships between the protagonists: in other words, the entertainment becomes passive as they immerse themselves in the creation of others.

The key concept behind this project is to propose a new way to look at entertainment in our connected society, where contents that are uniquely catered to the user provide better value in terms of engagement and fun.

For lead researcher Alexis Andre, the passive play type, while being very efficient to provide entertainment, might not be the best way. Films, novels, TV series offer strong experiences but let nothing open for the audience to interact with. Alexis Andre believes the key to the next generation of entertainment is to provide unique experiences to anybody, where active participation by the user is needed but also affects the experience itself tremendously.

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Different types of play for a different experience

In terms of play, there are two aspects that are believed by Andre to be of importance: to be able to explore the play space by playing with the rules of the system to create interactions in an emerging way and to be able to actively interact with the elements of the play.

Applying this concept to physical toys raises a couple of questions: what is needed to provide such environment and how to gather this information?

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Starting in 2012, the idea is to build a toy platform that is able to understand what is actually happening in the play area and is then able to provide feedback. In other words, building a virtual model of the “toy reality” then apply rules depending on the play scenario. The rules that are needed to enforce most types of play can be expressed in terms of location, orientation and time.

At Sony CSL's Open House 2013

The second aspect of the platform is to let the main characters lead. This is solved by using small autonomous robots that will hide themselves behind the heroes of the play scenario. Those robots are the key component as they are able to locate themselves in space, transmit this information then move according to the current set of rules.
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Announced in June 2017, the “toio™” toy platform is the realization of the concept of the future of play applied to toys, as a consumer product.

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