What a Combination - Engineers and Toys!

Nancy Anderson
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Most professional engineers would be able to quickly tell you exactly what their favorite toys were when they were growing up. Most baby boomers would mention in our list items like Erector Set, Model Rockets, and Chemistry Sets. Those a little younger would bring up Lego, Comodore 64, and Atari Video Games.

Toys were tactile, logical, constructive, creative, or simply so entertaining that we had to learn to make them better! These experiences took root and somehow led us toward this field. Believe it or not, those wonderful toys were actually designed by some really smart folks called “engineers”.

Paula Lipp and Lory A. Frenkel write that toy manufacturers employ engineers in many capacities, from streamlining the production process, to testing toys for safety and durability, to designing packaging.

Mattel Inc., of CA offers such standbys as Barbie and Hot Wheels. They also enjoy a partnership with Intel that enhances product lines of both companies'. Mattel labs director Michael Bruck says the lab relies on technology to take toys into a new dimension. "The goal wasn't to take existing categories of toys and stick electronics inside them," he says. "There isn't even a defined category for these kinds of toys. We wanted to go off and do something new and different."

In the business world, toys are not a game. Manufacturers work to create the next hot item that kids beg their parents for. Bill Smith, VP of engineering at Hasbro notes the impact that this has on the toy engineer's job. "It's a fad industry, so in addition to providing the technology lead on product development, it's a project management and leadership role" for the engineer, he says. Taking an idea from blue-sky concept to finished product involves a team of professionals representing quality assurance, manufacturing, product development, marketing and industrial design, and support groups from other areas.

Zowie Intertainment Inc.’s "Redbeard's Pirate Quest" utilized sensing and recognition technologies 10 years ago to track the movement of toy figures and transmit the information to a PC through embedded antennas. Programmers used C and Assembler Firmware in the toy's hardware, which drives the sensing technology; a C++ driver that communicates with the toy hardware; and C++ Development Kit that is used by application developers. Also, on the electronic side were RF engineers and mechanical engineers.

In 2011 such automation is available in mass produces modules, and premade processors of every kind. Such high technology is on the front burner of today’s toys that, well, they wouldn’t talk about it. BUT, It still takes engineers to design it!

The point is: Little engineers playing with creative toys grew up to become big engineers who designed even more creative and technical toys that inspired the new generations of little engineers! Who knew way back in college when we were fretting over that upcoming calculus exam, that one day after we graduated a big company might actually PAY us to think up new toys?

You can do this!

By K.B. Elliott

K. B. Elliott is a freelance writer for Engineer-Jobs.com. Working many related positions in the Detroit area for over 30 years gives him a unique perspective on the process. On the chance occurrence of spare time, you will find him building computers and airplanes, or restoring antiques. To read more of his blogs, please go to Engineer-Jobsblog.com, and be sure to check out the postings for jobs in nearly any industry at Nexxt


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