Toy companies flocked to New York City to show off their wares at the annual North American International Toy Fair. In my search for the best new tech in this toyland, I used The Force to move Star Wars' BB-8 robot, dodged drones zooming overhead, marveled at a suction-cupped gecko-robot climbing a window and warmed my heart with cuddly interactive playthings. These 10 toys stood out from the rest because they wowed me with tech that enhanced kids' play.
1. Sky Viper Hover Racer
This speedy little drone raced to the top of this list because of its kid-friendly CleanFlight controls. With auto-launch and auto-land buttons and offering simplified driving, kids quickly get into the fun of drone racing. In addition to the drone and controller, this set comes with four infrared smart beacons and a free app. Kids strategically place the beacons to define their racecourse, which could include placing one under the tire swing so that the drone must fly through it. The beacons communicate with the drone when it passes over, thus enabling the toy to record race times. Then it's liftoff to compete with friends to rule the skies in both racing and dogfighting. This toy cleverly sits at the intersection between gaming and drones.
Coming in the fall from Skyrocket Toys for ages 12+, $99.99, www.SkyrocketToys.com
2. Think & Learn Code-A-Pillar
By snapping the eight segments of this robotic caterpillar together, kids control how the toy will move and behave. Each segment houses a command, such as forward, left, right or wait. The motorized head analyzes the order of the segments and then moves to follow the commands. Code-a-pillar comes with two targets, so young coders can experiment with how to combine the segments to make the caterpillar reach the target. The free companion app offers additional programming challenges. This adorable robotic caterpillar ingeniously introduces coding to the preschool set.
Coming in July from Fisher-Price for ages 3-6, $49.99, www.fisher-price.com
Bonus Content: For older kids interested in coding, the award-winning GoldieBlox toy line of engineering kits for girls is coming out with a coding app in April for kids ages 6-8. Don't want to wait? Check out this list of apps and games that teach Learning to Code.
3. StikBot Studio Pro
Lights, action, cell phone! Kids love making their own videos. Now they can make stop-motion films using stick figures whose multi-jointed limbs have suction cups on the ends to facilitate posing. The kit comes with two stick figures, a green screen for superimposing different backgrounds, a tripod, two prop boxes and the free Zing StickBot Studio app (iOS, Android). The app makes creating a movie simple by stitching together the stick figure photos with music and sound effects. This green screen technology is special because it seamlessly allows kids to drop their own photos into their movies to create unique backgrounds.
Out now from Zing Toys for ages 4-up, $19.99, www.zingtoyshop.com
4. Circuit Maze
Circuit Maze electrifies logic puzzles. Using 60 puzzle cards, kids manipulate 21 puzzle tokens to create actual circuits on the puzzle board. Connected to a battery pack, the toy challenges kids to find solutions that turn on lights using both series and parallel circuits. This toy gets kids "wired" to solve puzzles.
Coming in March from Thinkfun for ages 8+, $29.99, www.thinkfun.com
5. LOVE2LEARN ELMO
Plush toy Elmo has gone digital. Working with an app, this adorable Sesame Street Muppet wants to be your child's learning buddy. Elmo talks, laughs, sings songs and extends the learning activities presented in the free companion app (iOS and Android). Parents can customize Elmo to know their child's name, favorite colors, animals and foods. The app presents learning games for three different ages and covers the subjects of letters, numbers, shapes, colors and animals. This Elmo will cheerlead kids in their learning and daily routines of brushing teeth, going to the potty and eating their veggies.
Coming in the fall from Hasbro for ages 18 months - 4 years, $69.99, www.hasbro.com
6. Little Scholar Mini
In the crowded market of kids' tablets, Little Scholar Mini rises above the others because of its price ($129) and its rich proprietary content. This 7-inch Android tablet comes pre-loaded with 70 of School Zone's excellent apps, games, books, songs and videos (including 13 episodes of Charlie & Company, School Zone's wonderful preschool animated series starring a golden retriever). Sporting an easy-grip green bumper, educational content sorted by age and interest, and good parental controls for limiting screen use, this tablet is a good choice.
Coming in September from School Zone for ages 3-7, $129, www.schoolzone.com
The sport of wall-climbing just got a new participant -- the Geckobot. This build-it-yourself robotics kit lets kids learn about air pressure and suction as their little lizard scales smooth surfaces using four suction cups for feet. The 100-piece kit can also make 6 other robotic designs and comes with a 24-page manual.
Coming in July from Thames & Kosmos for ages 8-up, $49.95, www.thamesandkosmos.com
Kids learn science with these sets of magnetic, electronic building blocks that pair with a free storybook app (iOS, Android). As kids explore the app's story about the town of MakerCity, the app challenges them to help 10 characters by solving 25 puzzles, using the blocks. The MakerBloxs use Bluetooth to communicate to the storybook, so the app knows when kids have correctly solved a problem. MakerBloxs will offer three kits covering circuits, spy gear and music. Each kit has its own chapter in the storybook app.
Coming in August from MakerBloks for ages 6-up, $199/kit, www.makerbloks.com
9. Star Wars Force Band and Battle Worn BB-8 App-Enabled Droid
Last September, Sphero launched its BB-8 App-Enabled Droid ($149.99), a small replica of the famous robot from the Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie. In 2016, Star Wars fans will be able to control this adorable droid with a new wristband controller called Force Band. The Force Band will also be compatible with the new version of the droid called Battle Worn BB-8. By using hand and arm motions, kids channel the Force to heighten their imaginative Jedi experience. This robotic toy and wrist controller created Toy Fair buzz that was out of this world.
Coming fall from Sphero for ages 8-up. No pricing at this time. www.sphero.com
Kids become a game designer with this simple set of colored blocks that fit on a 13x13 gridded gameboard and connect to a free app (iOS, Android, Kindle Fire). Players use the blocks to create 13-bit characters and the layout of their video game. They transfer their creations by capturing photos of the gameboard from within the app. What they built with real blocks now appears as a fully rendered video game inside the app. The app knows to map each colored block to a specific game function, including adding land, water, coins, enemies and more. Within a matter of minutes, kids can go from playing with the blocks to playing inside a video game they designed.
Available now from Pixel Press Technology for ages 8-12, $49.95, www.bloxelsbuilder.com
Bonus Tip: Since so many of these tech toys aren't released yet, if you want toys for your kids now, check out this list of Top Tech Toys for Kids.
Jinny Gudmundsen is the Editor of www.TechwithKids.com and author of iPad Apps for Kids, a For Dummies book. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @JinnyGudmundsen.