In an age when 3-D printers, Raspberry Pi and Lego Mindstorms are leaving simple 20th century toys in the dust, places like the Launch Pad at Daytona Beach Regional Library on City Island have become an invaluable pre-shopping stop to get a crash course in hi-tech gadgets.
DAYTONA BEACH — Once upon a time, Christmas shopping for little ones meant hunting down the latest Barbie doll, Tonka truck or Hasbro board game.
There was no wrestling with assembly of the 715 parts of a robot that can carry on a conversation and shake hands on command, or deciphering the differences between drones controlled by iPhones versus those maneuvered by control boxes.
Welcome to today. In an age when 3-D printers, Raspberry Pi and Lego Mindstorms are leaving simple 20th century toys in the dust, places like the Launch Pad at Daytona Beach Regional Library on City Island have become an invaluable pre-shopping stop to get a crash course in hi-tech gadgets that need computer chips and iPhone apps to function.
One morning last week, as people were prepping for the post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy, the library’s Launch Pad was set up like a high-tech petting zoo. A steady stream of kids and adults flowed into the room in a back corner of the library to check out the cutting edge gizmos.
Gavriella Cox and Mekayla Anderson, 13-year-old seventh-graders, sat on the floor transfixed as they played with a Meccano Meccasaur, a programmable robotic T-Rex dinosaur. The 3-foot-long toy responds to petting and voice commands, and the Daytona Beach girls giggled their way through testing out its powers.
Anderson got the green and gray dinosaur to high-five her.
“Meccasaur, learn my name. Gavvy!” Cox shouted at the high-tech rendition of a creature that roamed the earth between 230 million and 65 million years ago.
“Gavvy, welcome,” the robotic dinosaur responded as the girl laughed in delight.
Launch Pad Librarian Erica Davis said she’s going to use the Meccasaur to greet people who come into her corner of the building.
The Launch Pad was created about a year ago using grants from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Friends Of The Library. In a place that celebrates traditional reading with its many shelves of books, there are now also Kindles, Nooks, iPads and a host of other gadgets.
Davis has a bachelor’s degree in public administration, and she’s working on a master’s degree in library science, so she’s teaching herself to use things in the smorgasbord of gizmos.
“That’s the joy of this room. Everyone can work on whatever I’m working on,” she said.
For those who like to create, there are 3-D printing pens that ooze out brightly colored goo that can be formed into anything. Plastic sticks are fed into the thick pens, which heat the plastic so it can come out in a malleable material that quickly cools off.
A shiny silver Doodle Pen, which sells for $100, captured the attention of 11-year-old Annabelle Abrantes of Holly Hill. Her mother, Anika Rutherford, was in a more skeptical mindset as her daughter played.
“The jelly refills are $20,” Rutherford said. “Look at it. Have you created anything?”
Abrantes said she’s wanted a Doodle Pen for a long time, and she reminded her mother that her birthday is Tuesday.
“Regular art is boring,” said Abrantes, who rattled off a list of things she’d make ranging from jewelry to backpack decorations. “I want it for a (school) project on India. Plus I want to play with it.”
In another area of the room, 56-year-old Catherine Worthington, her 26-year-old daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend experimented with Ozobots, Super Ball-sized robots. The little robots follow lines you draw on a sheet of paper with special pens, and when they encounter certain colors and patterns you draw they’ll twirl, turn around or veer to one side or another.
“It’s simple coding,” Davis said as she watched.
“If you had a bigger one of these, it could bring your coffee in the morning,” Worthington joked.
Carol Koenigsberg, a 57-year-old visiting from California, is thinking about getting a 3-D printer for her family.
“I have a 13-year-old and 15-year-old, and they’re way into technology,” Koenigsberg said.
She already has a Cricut craft machine at home, and she was checking out the one at the library. The user feeds in paper, inputs commands for the desired product, and out come the makings of greeting cards, signs, banners, garland, and home decor items.
“It’s a crafter’s dream,” Koenigsberg said.
Also on display last week were several virtual reality headsets. A 20-something woman playing with the 3-D goggles found an app on her smart phone simulating a scary roller-coaster ride.
“Holy cow, that’s really high up,” she said as she took her virtual ride.
She gyrated around as she sat in a chair, and gasped when the ride took her to a peak on the coaster that had a large section of snapped off track.
“That’s trippy,” she said as she took off the headset.
The headsets, most of which require the user to find You Tube videos or download apps, have become very popular and more affordable.
“I bet more than half of kids will have a V.R. headset under the Christmas tree,” Davis said.
Kay Mansur was checking out the headsets at the library with her 7-year-old granddaughter in mind.
“I just thought it would be something different,” the 71-year-old Mansur said. “I didn’t know what to get her.”