Christmas Day, 1987, may look something like this at the Smith family. A radio-controlled dune buggy careens around the Christmas tree. Susie puts on her roller skates, which rev up and screech as she goes around the corner - watch out for the lamp! Melanie is talking to her stuffed animal, who can respond more intelligently than its ancestors. Jack aims his new gun at Melanie and shoots a capsule of brightly colored goop, leaving her in tears and her mother calculating the extra loads of laundry the gun will mean.
Already, the toy industry is abuzz with toys for 1987. It is during the next two months, before the Toy Fair in February, that many deals with retailers are made. The upshot: Old standbys like G.I. Joe and Barbie will still be around; but high-tech will finally hit its stride, propelling the industry into 15 to 20 percent growth next year.
Probably no one person is more responsible for shaping the future of toys than Donald Kingsborough, founder and chairman of Worlds of Wonder. His company's first-ever product, introduced last year, was Teddy Ruxpin, a talking bear; for an encore, the company came out with Lazer Tag, a gun that shoots a harmless infrared beam of light at the opponent. Both items were the hottest toys of the year.
The key to his company's success - one that has captured the attention of his competitors and will likely be the guiding force in the toy business - is taking kids' dreams and putting a high-tech spin on them.
``We take existing technologies from other industries and apply them to children's products,'' Mr. Kingsborough says. Teddy Ruxpin, whose computer technology cost $2 million to develop, came from the entertainment and robotics industries. Lazer Tag, which cost $3 million to develop, takes technology from the electronics industry.
And next year? Kingsborough is circumspect, but he says '87 products will be keyed to the aerospace, - ``every kid wants to fly,'' he says - telecommunications, and defense industry. He says the company has ``30 or 40 projects'' going on for products over the next few years.
Many of the new toys will look the same. ``Lazer Tag and Teddy Ruxpin actually have things built into them already that haven't been announced yet,'' he says. For example, voice recognition and video interactivity technology have already been developed. Teddy Ruxpin is already popular, so it is a short step to put them together to create an educational tool.