Maker/Development Toys

TinkerBots enlivens your Legos, offers simple robotics introduction

The Premise. Children and parents alike love construction toys because of the way that they manage to be fun while fostering creativity in developing minds. As robotics become easier to manufacture and more cost-effective, the delight of bringing these creations to life is too much to ignore.

The Product. TinkerBots is the next in a line of robotic building toys for children, though these are designed to be easier than ever. Using an Arduino platform as its base, each TinkerBots creation starts with the Power Brain, a block that provides information and power to any product. From there, a variety of blocks can be connected, from legs to wheels, and there are even adapters to allow standard Lego blocks to be attached. A simple press of the record button and a movement of each of the parts will allow the Power Brain to record the action and recreate it, hands-free.

The Pitch. It’s easy to see that Kinematics is passionate about blending fun and learning. By framing the toy as a stepping stone to familiarizing children with technology they will most likely need in their future careers, TinkerBots is framed as an educational tool while still looking enjoyable to play and experiment with. The campaign photos provide almost an instruction manual to using and building with TinkerBots for those that need a little more guidance. To reach the market, Kinematics will need $100,000 in pledges to continue to grow the TinkerBots platform.

The Perks. Because of the inherently modular nature of TinkerBots, there are a number of reward tiers for backers, starting with the Basic Wheeler Set that will allow backers to build simple wheeled robots for $159. Those who prefer to make animal-style creations can get the Basic Animal Set for $229. Advanced, more inclusive sets are available for $299, an IR sensor set is available for $329, sets with grabbing arm attachments are $399, and the Sensoric Mega Set is $499.

The Potential. Robotics sets for children are nothing new, but TinkerBots greatly brings down the cost and complexity down a notch from something like Lego’s latest MindStorms starter kit. What makes TinkerBots so unique though is the lack of high-level programming involved. While usually that requirement is sold as a feature designed to teach kids skills, the learning by example of TinkerBots will make creating and playing that much more natural and fun, and at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to excite and enrapture children of all ages.


Flexure offers a bouncy connector toy

Flexure 64391db0d9501a09d69eaca4eacd442d_large[1]Flexure is designed with the budding engineer, architect and generally creative child in your family in mind. The connectors are made of flexible food-safe silicone, so kids (and perhaps even teens and some adults) can create items that bounce and move if they choose. The dowels are made of natural wood and come in lengths of 3, 5, and 8 inches. So the toy even has educational value in that the dowel lengths are part of the Fibonacci Sequence, which provide a convenient additive relationship such as 3+5=8. Flexure reminds one of another recent crowdfunded construction kit called Strawbees that has even more flexibility in terms of the connector length. The connectors and dowels are connected by just pushing them together — no instructions needed. For a pledge of $35, backers get one complete product, which includes 30 silicone parts (5 of each connecter) and 30 wooden dowels (10 of each length). This is a $5 savings on the anticipated retail price of the product. Expected delivery is June 2014.



Strawbees lets kids drink in a versatile construction toy

The Premise. As technology becomes more and more advanced, it is apparent that kids can still have fun with simple toys. Using their active imaginations, children don’t need fancy gadgets to play with. Construction toys remain popular because they present endless possibilities for fun and enjoyment to children.

The Product. Strawbees is a vaguely key-like small connector that acts as a joint between two plastic straws. The connectors can be purchased in several different kits that have numerous pieces in them. Because the straws are so inexpensive and easy to cut, one can create structures with many varied lengths and colors. Also, there’s not much concern about losing the connecting straws since one can pick them up in any supermarket or drug store.

The Pitch. Strawbees’ Kickstarter campaign features a video of the connectors and their attendant drinking conveyances in action, showing the hundreds of ways that it can be used, include attaching Strawbees to large pieces of cardboard or electronics. It’s interesting to see how versatile the system is and that it isn’t only fun for kids, but also useful for adults. The video even features the product being played with by a scholar from MIT. Strawbees’ creators, a.k.a. the Creatables, are hoping to raise $20,000 during their campaign.

The Perks. Strawbees is offering a Try Before You Buy Kit which includes over 40 pieces for only $15. From there, the Maker Kit (100+ pieces) is $25, the Inventor Kit (300+ pieces) is $50 and the Crazy Scientist Kit (800+ pieces and available to sane scientists as well) is $100. A pledge of $600 or more qualifies the backer for the less-than-literally-named Infinite Kit which includes plenty of Strawbees along with the machine and materials needed to make a near limitless number of Strabees structures. The highest reward tier includes the Infinite Kit and a day and a half workshop with one of Strawbees’ creators where he demonstrates the vast array of shapes that Strawbees can produce. Each reward tier, except for the workshop, has an estimated delivery date of April 2014.

The Potential. Crowdfunding has recently facilitated the launch of other recently crowdfunded building systems such as Snaak and CubeCraft. An upcycled variation of the classic Tinkertoy, Strawbees is one of those incredibly simple concepts with a million possibilities. The drinking conveyance-based system may have the edge in terms of versatility, however, and the straws needed to use Strawbees lets creations over a lot of ground without having to use a lot of pieces. One of the few drawbacks of Strawbees is that the straws needed to use it actually aren’t included in any of the kits; this takes a bit away from the out-of-box experience, but this enhances their portability.