Augmented Reality

When kids toys come to life: How AR is transforming play

By Kitty Knowles 9 December 2016

We asked three entrepreneurs to explain why AR toys are going to be the next big trend.

It’s every child’s dream to have a toy that comes to life.

But some parents worry that screen-time is killing off this imaginative sense of whimsy.

Now, toy makers are developing new products that please everyone: that combine screens and physical parts in new and innovative ways.

They are doing this with the help of augmented reality (AR). This uses your phone or tablet to place digital animation on top of visuals of your physical, real-world environment.

The Memo caught up with 3 entrepreneurs to find out why they think AR toys will be the next big trend…

Phil Charnock, Draw & Code

The Memo met the Draw & Code team at Tech North – where the business received a Northern Star accolade for its new SwapBots toy. 

What do SwapBots do?

We started to sketch out SwapBots over a few drinks and since then they’ve remained very close to this original vision.

Using the camera in a mobile device, or SwapScope as we call it, you scan the Bot and see it come to life.

The AR experience continues as you connect with other players and see the game right there in the physical space around the toy.

It would be nice to think that the first time kids try SwapBots they experience wonder as they see the toy moving, after that, we want them to feel as excited about the toy and engrossed in the game as we are.

How with AR shape the future of play?

The disconnect between tactile play and using video games on a screen is pretty drastic. AR is about bringing the best of both worlds together, bringing the tactility of physical play into the intricate, challenging world of the video game.

This tech is ultimately heading toward a physical world with fewer buttons and more interactivity in surprising places.

Within five years depth sensing cameras on phones will allow for amazing AR experiences while the first viable headsets using the technology will be starting to emerge. 

The thing that makes AR so compelling isn’t just the ability to overlay digital content onto the real world, it’s how natural it feels. Tim Cook said that AR will be used by most of us on a daily basis, and I have to agree. 

SwapBots will go on sale in 2017. Sign up at to be first to get your hands on them. 

Vaclav Mlynar, Koski

The Memo met the Koski team at 2 Pears pitching competition TechPitch 4.5 PLAY – where the business won the audience vote. 

What does Koski do?

We are using a combination of physical building blocks and AR to create the whole new game experience.

You interact with Koski by physically moving the building blocks with your hands. Your tablet or smartphone can then use its camera to create an augmented reality layer on top of the blocks.

Augmented reality can be really magical if it is used in the right way, and Koski is about creativity, customisation and freedom.

We want kids to be able to create their own environments, characters, and even games, with the use of our blocks and apps.

How will AR shape the future of play?

We believe there is a big potential in AR that hasn’t been correctly explored yet.

The advantage of AR is its openness. It gives you freedom to constantly change, update and create.

The future of the play is in a Mixed Reality (MR), where the digital and physical world meets and create one unified experience.

We are aiming to be the world leader in MR/AR products, and to expand our portfolio of product into others markets such as education or health care.

Koski plans to launch a Kickstarter funding round imminently. Be the first to sign up by registering at

James Murden, AliveLab

AliveLab is the company behind Mardles and discovAR – the stickers and colouring book that both come to life. 

What does AliveLab do?

We launched Mardles stickers that come to life in 2015 and then discovAR 4D colouring books in 2016 with more exciting plans for 2017.

Kids use our free app to bring characters to life on their phone or tablet screens in 3D.

We want kids to feel like something magical is happening, to engage with our products and feel ownership of the characters that they interact with.

With our 4D colouring books, we want kids to be creative when colouring in a picture, when they see that design come to life on their tablet or phone, we want that feeling of awe and wonder.

How with AR shape the future of play?

The magic of seeing something 3D that looks like it’s actually there in front of you is something that kids really relate to. It adds a dimension that no other technology can offer.

AR can help to achieve things that a physical product just can’t do – there are no limits, the possibilities of are endless.

As mobile devices become more powerful and kids get more familiar with the technology, we expect the amount of toys that include AR to rise dramatically over the coming years.

We imagine that fully immersive AR experiences will become second nature in play and also education.

Read more about augmented reality on The Memo.

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