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Wanted: Cubelets, Toy Blocks That Link to Become Robots [Video]

And they teach you the basics of programming while you’re at it.

Wanted: Cubelets, Toy Blocks That Link to Become Robots [Video]

Everyone knows about those big brightly colored blocks that babies and toddlers play with. Well, those are sooooo 20th century. Now parents can give their little geniuses-to-be Cubelets: toy blocks that snap together with magnets and unlock interesting electronic powers, like sensors, motors, and data displays. Take that, Baby Einstein!

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Cubelets are a spin-off project of Carnegie Mellon’s Computational Design Lab, which developed them as “modules of a computational construction kit to scaffold learning math, science and control theory.” Which is is a less-fun way of saying “blocks that let you build awesome robots and stuff.”

cubelets

The genius behind Cubelets lies in their flexibility: each block’s function is extended and defined by the other blocks you magnetically attach to it. Snap a knob cube to a bar-graph cube, and boom, you’ve got a cool little light-toy. Even better: snap that to a motor cube with some wheels, and presto, instant robot. Using a kit of 20 blocks, you can build all kinds of funky little machines and doodads — no instruction manual required.

Cubelets

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That last part is what separates truly educational toys like Cubelets from tricked-up junk like Baby Einstein: kids learn by playing and exploring the design of the system on their own, not according to some adult’s proscriptions. Do they need to know that Cubelets contain intense techno-stuff like actuators, logic boards, and photosensors? Nah. All they need to know is that when you snap ’em together, they seem to come alive — in predictable, but surprising and complex, ways.

cubelets

The electronic “brain” of a Cubelet.

If that sounds suspiciously like Computer Programming 101, that’s because it is. But who says you need fancy programming languages to learn how to code? By making programming abstractions concrete and physical, Cubelets intuitively introduce kids to one of the most powerful creative tools that humans have ever invented.

The Cubelets will be available next month, and the set costs $300 here.

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.

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