Can Kids and Augmented Reality Get Along?

It’s called the “dancing dog” syndrome and it’s been used to ridicule technology that adds nothing of substance to the equation. Just because the dog can dance, should it? Augmented Reality is the dancing dog of the 2018 holiday season. Toymakers are betting big that AR toys will resonate with kids, but beneath most of them is an empty-headed canine attempting to Cha Cha.

With some variations, augmented reality, in its current iteration, usually involves taking a mobile device with a screen and pointing it at an object or QR code in the real world. When the object is captured or scanned by the screen, new visual information is superimposed over the scene. Scanning a letter “A” might yield a floating apple, perhaps bouncing lightly or spinnable with a finger swipe. Scanning a code on a cereal box might reveal a gaggle of characters. Scanning an astronomy book, you may find the planets rotating serenely in front of your eyes.

The problem with implementing AR for kids is the serious dexterity and abstract thinking skills involved. Despite the fact that kids’ games and toys are adding augmented reality to their repertoires faster than Pikachu pops up on my street corner, we may not be creating any kids’ masterpieces here, and we may be creating confusion for young minds.

Unless you live in China, where WeChat is the dominant social media platform designed for easy QR code scanning, getting AR ready is not a walk in the park. You need to download a third party QR code reader for your mobile device. WeChat’s built-in reader is amazingly facile. In Asia, you can be running down the street, smart phone in hand, and still capture QR codes on street signs everywhere as you go. In the US, most of us will instead download a crummy QR code reader from one of the app stores and need to hone our marksmen skills (Apple’s iOS 11 just added a built in QR scanner that’s reportedly pretty good).

Most of today’s AR apps for kids require the child be able to…

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