Legos 2.0: Build Your Own Robots with Cubelets

January 9, 2012

10:00 am

Coming to CES this week are Cubelets, small multicolor cubes you can snap together to create robots that move, chirp, and light up.

Cubelets come with different programming, and what they do depends on how they’re combined. “Action” blocks include Drive (with wheels), Flashlight, and Speaker (which chirps). “Sense” blocks respond to environmental factors like brightness and temperature. And “Think” blocks, take inputs from adjoining blocks and output numbers.

All this means you can create a robot that drives forward when it senses your hand behind it (see the video below), or spins like a lighthouse, or performs simple mathematical operations. The cost for Cubelets is a bit high: 6 blocks sell for $160, and they take a few months to ship.

Cubelets are built by Modular Robotics, a Boulder-based startup cofounded by PhDs Eric Schweikardt and Mark D. Gross and spun off of research at Carnegie Mellon University. With funding from the National Science Foundation, they are marketing Cubelets as a different type of kid’s toy (for kids 8+) and selling them to science centers, children’s museums, and hobbyists. (Check out this tug-of-war game an 8-year-old boy invented.)

“We believe that toys shape the way that children think about the world,” says Modular Robotics, which was inspired by systems in nature like flocks of birds. If kids are intrigued enough to play around with Cubelets, I imagine it would be a fun process of experimentation, trial and error, and creativity.

But adults might actually be a better market for these expensive and complicated toys. Adult commenters in the Modular Robotics forum are chattering away about new ideas for Cubelets – like a Camera block or “Leave Me” block that detaches itself – and the ability to reprogram their own blocks (which Modular Robotics is working on).

You can find Cubelets at CES’s Eureka Park, an area featuring almost 100 startups in partnership with the National Science Foundation, the Startup America Partnership, CNET, and UK Trade & Investment. Check out the amusing video of Cubelets below:

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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