A new remote-controlled robot available this fall will likely be the first of many programmable toys aimed at children.

Called the Spy Video TRAKR (pronounced "Tracker"), the camera-equipped robot can digitally transmit color, video, audio and data to a hand-held controller.

A USB connection will also let kids hook up their bot to a computer and create, download and share custom software applications, or "apps."

"They'll come up with things that toy companies would never think of," said Daniel Grossman, CEO of Wild Planet Entertainment, the toy’s developer.

"We believe that the most-downloaded apps will be the ones created by kids. App-sharing in toys will be fueled by kids. It's empowering when other people are interested in something you create. Kids will take pride when programs they designed are downloaded by other kids."

All TRAKR apps will be free, Grossman added.

Kid-pleasing mischief

The TRAKR will cost $120 and is aimed at kids ages 8 and up. It will come with three apps pre-installed, including a night-vision app that lets kids see everything in the bot’s path even in complete darkness.

A collection of free apps will also be available for download when the toy hits retail shelves in October.

Kids can maneuver the bot using a hand-held controller, viewing its progress and navigating through a 1.8-inch screen.  Because TRAKR is a treaded vehicle, users steer it like a bulldozer, pressing the right controller to turn left and vice versa.

The toy has an operating range of between 100 and 150 feet, depending on conditions, 8 megabytes of RAM, 2 megabytes of flash memory for apps, and an SD card slot for storing audio and video clips.

For anyone remotely in touch with their inner child, it won't take much imagination to see how Spy Video TRAKR’s ability to run custom apps, travel in the dark, transmit and store still and video images and record and play sounds gives it enormous potential for kid-pleasing mischief.

An online application modulator will enable beginners to tweak existing apps as they start learning how to write code for the TRAKR in the C++ programming language.

Free software that will give kids all the tools they need to begin writing and sharing their own programs will be available at SpyTRAKR.com.

"We're teaching kids how to write their own applications and program their toys to do exactly what they want them to do," told TechNewsDaily.

A long history

Toymakers have a long history of incorporating new technologies into their products, said Jon-Paul Dyson, director of the National Center for the History of Electronic Games at Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y.

“Thomas Edison created a talking doll more than a hundred years ago,” Dyson said.  “What has changed is the pace with which technologies are being incorporated into toys."

Ever since the 1970s, toy manufacturers have increasingly included digital components in their products, Dyson said. Milton Bradley became one of the companies to computerize toys when it introduced a programmable electric tank called Big Trak over 30 years ago.

As computer chips have become faster, more powerful, and cheaper, toy makers have continued to find new and creative ways to include digital components in their products, Dyson said.

"Toys always reflect the culture that creates them," he added. "So it’s not surprising that toys have more and more high-tech features. We’re also seeing an increasing integration of toys with online experiences as kids spend more and more time in virtual spaces.”