It's never too soon to start speculating about what will be hot — and not hot — when the Christmas holidays roll around this year.
Because toys interact with kids (big and small), feature sets and performance expectations can be quite high. Does it talk? Does it smile responsively? Does it perambulate autonomously? We've come a long way from the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls of the 1980s that were cute, somewhat cuddly, and remarkably inarticulate.
Technology trends make predicting the top toy a risky business before toy makers start their programmed leaks just before CE Week in NYC in June. Nevertheless, my money is on drones.
Since the price sweet spot of the Christmas toy market tends to be on the not-so-expensive side, most of the burden of producing a drone-toy superstar falls on the chip designer, who (as we know from reading Planet Analog blogs) has a dizzying array of mixed-signal design tools and fabrication processes at his/her disposal. But can they do it for less than 25 cents per chip? Depends on what's integrated, I guess.
Perhaps I should stop for a moment to define my terms: Drones are different from remote-controlled model planes because a camera is indispensible equipment and the ability to hover is highly desirable. We will leave the feature of a laser or other destructive device off the table for the time being.
I'm thinking drones because a lot of the necessary technology has already been integrated — some of it digital; some more of it analog. Any toy drone will have to be battery powered so the chip has to be ULP (ultra-low power). It has to integrate a state-of the-art 2.4 GHz radio for WiFi control and a pretty good microprocessor to handle the stabilization data required to accomplish hovering, which requires multiple position-adjustable rotors and their related position sensors (probably analog in nature). GPS should also be integrated – partly just because it can be — and is also useful when the drone disappears over the horizon. A camera is essential, which probably means a hard-wired image compression algorithm (more for the processor to do). It would be nice to have MEMS pressure sensor to measure altitude — these are already being integrated into some sports watches. What we may be talking about is a scaled down smartphone that flies.
Speaking of smartphones, control via your iPhone or other latest-generation mobile device would eliminate the cost of a base station. But wait, there already is an app for remote control of RC-class helicopters and a company that specializes in equipment for spying has a model with a camera.
We still have to get the price down, though, and add some drone-like features, such as extended range and higher altitude. Compare these features and specs to the RC-class helicopters which are bigger and intended for adult use. A toy has to be kid-sized in terms of both physical size and durability and capable of some level of autonomous flight.
A tall order to be sure but one that can be attained with more functionality integrated at an IC level. I expect this functionality may already be in the test phase now. So, what's on your Christmas list?