HEXBUG Nanos were an offshoot of the HEXBUG toys, originally launched in 2007, that came out in 2011. The Nanos, were significantly smaller, and were advertised predominantly on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, the target audience was advertised to be both young boys and girls, however, the children in question shouldn’t mind getting their hands dirty. The toys were designed to run around like a cockroach when placed on the ground, completely independently, using the powers of physics and vibrations. With bright colours to capture the interest of a child, and a rough-around-the-edges kind of concept, the toys were many children’s first glimpses into the basic forms of robotics, drones and artificial intelligence outside of Star Wars or cartoons. This was the real world. This was exciting. These toys ran rampant in a house, little plastic legs wriggling around as a real beetle’s would, and sparked the imagination of a generation.
For many parents and children alike, the theme song for their iconic advert, parodying “What’s That Coming Over The Hill” by The Automatic, was an earworm, and due to it often being played during prime time children’s TV, it was a rather repetitive message. It was a HEXBUG.
But, of course, with the constant exposure to this advert, it certainly sparked the curiosity of children and parents alike, how did this tiny battery operated robot just move like that? With no remote? What was the science behind it?
Carlotta Perez, author of Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages, stated in an interview with Azeem Azhar of Harvard Business Review, that “normally innovation happens on certain tracks, with every type of revolution, there is a sequence of similar things but better and better and better. I mean, we went from the mobile phone that could only phone to a mobile phone that is actually a computer.”
Even using this idea of the little battery-powered insects, there is a pattern, the idea of this little battery powered bug could be the springboard for an imaginative child, or a bored older sibling, or perhaps even a curious parent, to learn, to build and to grow; generating their own ideas which spanned from the foundations of a robotic insect that was not much bigger than the battery encased in its plastic shell.
With a vague target audience of children between the ages of seven and eleven, there is room to assume that parents and siblings would still have to provide a semblance of supervision and engagement during playtime, thus broadening the scope of exposure. Furthermore, as Kelly Toys demonstrated with their soft toy, the Squishmallow, target audiences are for perspective and market research, they are not concrete.
Of course, in 2011, I was still running through the arch in centre of the “girls toys aisle” to look for specific action figures in the “boys toys aisle” beside it, in fear of toy-store-ridicule from parents or other children browsing. But, that doesn’t mean others didn’t engage with the market for HEXBUG Nanos.
Inspiration can stick to you, tattooed to the crevices of the mind, just as it could leave you as quickly as removing a splinter from your thumb. For some, the idea of HEXBUGS nowadays may inspire playground nostalgia, yearning to make obstacle courses for Ben’s HEXBUGS with a skipping rope. Or perhaps, watching that bug move without being directed, without a remote, as if by magic, may have been the catalyst that forced open the doorway to science.
And of course, in the field of science, comes the revolutionary drone technology.
Now, of course, drones have been part of society for many, many years, however, they were predominantly utilised for surveillance in the police, ambulance, fire service or military, as well as, later, a tool for photographers. And, commercial toy drones, like remotely controlled helicopters with flimsy wings and weak motors have been around for much longer than HEXBUGS. Yet, here we are, exploring whether these little toys had an influence.
The Economist said in their March 2021 video-report that innovation has risen during the pandemic, and the applications of science and technology have gained a greater scope over the last fifteen months.
Drones now deliver food, and parcels in order to reduce face-to face contact between people, like a revolving door in some places, and like a SAT Nav in others. You see small robots in The Economist’s video-report, on their small wheels, manoeuvring over obstacles in their path. You have to wonder how they pass over stones. Fans of Star Wars will recall that terrain is not always easy to manoeuvre as a droid, with R2D2 falling off the ship in Episode 5 when disembarking on Dagobah, and a popular blooper reel from Episode 4 depicting C3PO walking straight into the green screen, tripping over the foam terrain around him.
You have to wonder how much of current drone technology is inspired by toys in this sense. If the science behind battery-powered bugs can actually influence how these SAT-Nav drones deliver food, do they also detect things in their way via vibrations? That would explain why there aren’t viral videos of them toppling over, with the R2D2 scream edited in. Or, maybe it’s just a matter of time.
Based in London, U.K., and founded in 2016 by Arvind Mishra The Agile Works (www.TheAgileWorks.com), is an up-and-coming recruitment and Agile consulting company. Arvind is a Certified SAFe SPC and regularly delivers both private and public SAFe certification workshops.
He is a design thinking expert, Sr. enterprise, portfolio Agile Coach with over a decade of experience working as an Agile coach in diverse industries such as banking, pharma, retail, auto, oil, gas, consulting and government.
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