Mar 032011

Do you remember those colored building blocks you would use to learn words and numbers, or just construct mighty castles to keep your enemies outside?

Well, they’ve now received a 21st Century update in the form of the Cubelets system. Currently made up of 20 colored blocks that snap together with the help of magnets, each one has a little computer inside which gives it different functionality to the others. One might be a sensor, another have wheels and another sport a potentiometer. The fun starts when you put them together. The behavior of the resulting robot depends on how the blocks talk to each other. Sweet.

The Cubelets robotic construction kit is described as “a toy that fosters computational thinking about complex systems” and is based on roBlocks modules created by Eric Schweikardt and Mark D Gross from the Computational Design Lab at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and brought to market by a spin off company founded in 2008. Each kit contains 20 magnetic blocks comprising five Sense blocks, six Action blocks and nine Think/Utility blocks. Each block has a tiny computer inside and is described as a robot in its own right, but when combined with another block, and another, they talk to each other and become a wholly different machine.

Every creation will need to include a battery block for power but beyond that requirement – experimentation is the way to go. For instance, you might connect a light sensing block to a speaker block and noise from the speaker will get louder as the light is increased. Then try it with a temperature sensing block, a thinking block and a drive block that sports a motor and rollers and see what happens. Just like Johnny 5, they can appear to be alive.

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