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Move Over Lego

By Matt Simpson - Friday, January 06, 2012

We all snapped together Lego blocks or some clone of them in our lives. We could build huge cathedral like expanses or simply make tanks out of them to do battle with each other. The static Lego block may have seen its last Christmas if the new design from Modular Robotics takes off in a big way. Given the amount of cool these little things produce for adults and kids, their ticket to stardom is only hampered by their exorbitant price tag.

The LEGO Years

It doesn’t matter if you had real Lego pieces, Lock Blocks, or any of the 10 other brands that sold similar products over the years. Every kid has some experience with putting the locking blocks together to make things. It seems today, more often than not, they are used to simply make models of guns that the kid remembers from the Modern Warfare games their parents bought for them. In the past, when kids still had an imagination, these simple blocks would be transformed into grand designs either based in reality or completely of their own.

Somewhere along the line, these got even better. The addition of moving parts and other non block items came into the mix, making the possibilities for individual expression even greater. There were even some of these that had battery powered motors that you could use in certain kinds of blocks. These allowed you to make LEGO cars, trains, and any kind of monstrous block creation move on their own. Today, with the advancement of technology in general and the low cost of microelectronics, it should be no surprise that the game has again changed.

Enter Cubelets

Despite a terribly goofy YouTube commercial introducing them, Cubelets may well be the next evolution in the locking blocks world. Cubelets are essentially the locking blocks from the past, but with a specific function assigned to each block. This may be in the form of a battery block, a motor block, or any of the other options available. The blocks are held together magnetically, again a step forward from their friction based predecessors.

They tout this as a robotics construction set. To be fair, for the very young it may be just such, but for older kids, it’s likely to be less functional for discovery and more of a fun toy. Even for adults however, I feel these would provide a degree of fun in a wasting time kind of way. For kids, they are actually doing something and the technological level these are at will keep them immersed in a day and age where regular lock blocks seem like ancient hoop games compared to their IPad.

What Can They Do?

So far, there are 15 different modules for the Cubelets. They are broken down in a logical way to make things simpler for new or younger users. There are action blocks, which are outputs, sense blocks are the inputs, and the think blocks which feature some logic embedded. The action blocks currently feature things such as motors for drive and rotation, flashlights, speakers, etc. The Sense blocks have sensors which can currently respond to things such as brightness, temperature, and distance. The Think blocks feature batteries and insulators for the command signal and also are said to include some programmable bits. We’ll have to see just what kind of programmable features are available. 

The only real drawback to getting your kids or yourself a set of these to play around with is the price. Unfortunately it’s a big one. Given the simplicity of these devices, the asking price of 30 bucks per cube will keep them out of all but the most well heeled households.


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