As the recent bankruptcy of American store chain Toys R Us made clear, the toy industry is rapidly changing. And not just because physical store chains are being overtaken by online retailers.
The EU is still the largest single market in the world for traditional toys and games (the latest data available, from 2011, estimated a €15.8 bn value at retail selling prices) but manufacturers have started to face tough competition from tablet and smartphone games, which ate part of their market share.
Some companies tried to fight back, by adding a layer of connectivity to their products. Ever heard of connected dolls, robotic smart cars, or "cloud pets"? These attempts, however, aren't always successful and, due to lack of a reliable data analytics platform which could help manufacturers make sense of usage data, it is often difficult to tell why.
PLET (Product Lifecycle Management for E-Toys), an Innovation Activity launched by EIT Digital as part of its Digital Industry Action Line, set off on solving this issue, by allowing manufacturers to analyze data streams thanks to a flexible and easy-to-use software platform which will act as a central hub for all data regarding a product.
Having access to this kind of information, strictly anonymized and safely stored according to GDPR privacy regulations, will allow producers to fine-tune their marketing and advertising strategies.
Italian company Reply will act as PLET's business champion and technology provider for the product lifecycle management (PLM) platform and the Politecnico of Milan will focus on the user experience and connectivity of the toy itself, whereas Dutch company Bright Cape will take care of the data analytics software.
"Every hybrid, connected toy has a digital representation, an avatar which is fed by all the data generated by the product and that can give producers precious insights on which functionalities are most appreciated, which are the hurdles to be solved, in which context the child plays with the gadget," Reply's senior manager and activity leader Maurizio Griva says.
Some analytics solutions do already exist, but they are too complicated to use, built on proprietary technology, and very resource intensive. The PLET solution, on the contrary, will rely on open source PLM technology for intrinsic interoperability, and it will be built on a set of open Web services for the specific business objects interfaces; data security and compliance with GDPR privacy standards will be natively ensured by adding multiple layers of data protection which will minimize vulnerability.
Market launch is scheduled by autumn 2018, with the first sale to a trial customer to be finalized by year's end.