SwapBots are collectable & customisable toys that are brought to life by a smartphone or tablet using augmented reality. Our vision is to revolutionise the way that children play, both with toys and each other, by bridging the gap between physical and digital interaction.
Maybe brief isn’t quite the right word for this project as this is something a little different for Draw & Code. While we usually work with clients and partners, instead SwapBots are products which are made in-house by our designers and developers. First conceived over a pint of beer, 18 months later we have designed and manufactured prototypes of the toys with a demo of the associated augmented reality video game.
The overall concept for the toy was set in stone early and the designs started to flow, although refining them took a mammoth amount of effort. Not only did we want to make a toy that we would be happy to display in our own homes, it also had to hit quality targets, price targets and crucially the designs had to work well as an augmented reality marker. After experimenting with various 3D printing techniques and materials, we eventually opted to take control of the prototyping process by buying our own 3D printer.
The reason for using augmented reality as the interaction method between the toy and the video game was that we wanted to do more than just pay lip service to physical play. Using a smartphone or tablet as a ‘SwapScope’, the player (or Swapper) looks through the screen and sees the toy on the other side of it. This is an important difference between SwapBots and other toys-to-life franchises; we encourage the player to keep on interacting with the toy rather than placing it to the side of the console and forgetting about it.
Not only does augmented reality have this magical quality, it is also a very accessible technology. With well over 90% of UK children having access to a smartphone or tablet and without the need for extra hardware costs, augmented reality is a sophisticated technique for interacting with a toy with very low hardware costs. As for the SwapBots software that is currently in a pre-beta stage, it will be offered for free and will have no in-app purchases, mainly because we would not be happy with our own children using heavily monetised software, so why should we ask other parents to keep shelling out on our app?
The prototype toys are continuing to be made, the software is advancing with a fully functional user interface and packaging for the Bots is being created. Our next step is to seek investment which would allow us to take our products into full production and onto the shelves of toy shops.