Kids/Babies Maker/Development

The SBrick Plus hides STEM education inside toy bricks

As a child, there’s not much better than having a full set of Legos to go to town on. As adults, there isn’t much out there as fondly remembered as the classic building blocks. Now, with the explosion of IoT technology, the SBrick Plus take clicking together plastic bricks up a notch.

The sequel to the successfully funded SBrick back in 2014, the SBrick Plus is a Bluetooth-enabled brick placed into Lego models to control them remotely using a smart device like a phone, tablet, gamepad or PC. What’s more, the SBrick Plus uses sensors from the WeDo 1.0 family that can be programmed in several languages and track variables like tilt and proximity for fun uses in model planes, for example. What the SBrick really allows for are dynamic educational experiences in the home and in the classroom, something the team behind the product facilitates with a series of lessons designed to teach the fundamentals of programming and robotics.

Tech Accessories

Brik Case makes customizing MacBooks a snap

Many laptop users like to personalize the tops of their computers, a fun activity often accomplished with stickers. Laptop users, however, may get tired of previously chosen designs. Not helping matters is that many stickers can be extremely hard to fully remove.

The Brik Case offers a novel way for users to more easily customize their laptop. The Brik Case is a customizable laptop case that uses toy bricks which allow users to constantly change the design of their case. The Brik Case was conveniently designed to easily clip on and off MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs, so long as they were manufactured in 2013 or later. Notably, the case isn’t officially licensed by Lego, Mega Bloks, PixelBlocks, Kre-O or K’Nex. Nonetheless, the Brik Case is still compatible with all of those toy bricks. Its maker is planning to ship the case in August with $39.99 pricepoint. Its makers are hoping to raise $30,000 to help pay for the molds, packaging, engineers and the first order of Brik Cases. The campaign end date is slated for April 25.

The Brik Case hold a lot of promise, albeit for a very niche audience: MacBook users who are fans of Lego and other toy bricks. Making a version for Windows PCs would be an obvious move that could significantly expand the market for the case. The product’s Kickstarter campaign, however, makes no mention of such plans in the future.


Carbon Fiber Tiles add more fun to Lego time

Many kids, and even adults, love building with Lego bricks. The idea of enhancing a Lego-made building, vehicle or other design with tiles made from sheets of high gloss carbon fiber seems like a welcome addition to Lego fun time.

Mark Carpenter of Grand Rapids, Michigan, developed Lego-compatible Carbon Fiber Tiles with his Lego brick-loving sons. He initially began designed black ones sized at 1 x 2 inches each. Backers of the Kickstarter campaign who pledge $14 as part of an early bird special will get a pack of 10 tiles expected to ship this month. The Carpenter family is looking to raise $8,000.

There is certainly an audience for the tiles. But carbon fiber isn’t cheap and it’s questionable how many consumers will spend so much for a handful of tiles when they can opt to get cheaper individual bricks made by Lego at one of its stores that will accomplish much the same thing. There have been other Lego accessories made by third parties in the past, including TinkerBots and Brickmania Track Links. But those two products had more unique purposes and TinkerBots could also be used independently of Lego bricks. The Carpenters will need to push the envelope a little farther in order to make their idea successful.


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.


CubeCraft brings Minecraft-style blocks to the real third dimension

The Premise. Plenty of kids love to play with Legos and blocks. But toys in that realm are meeting their match, because, until now, we were bound by the lockable structures on the bottom or, quite frankly, by physics.

The Product. Inspired by the wildly popular game Minecraft (for which kids show a special fondness), CubeCraft seeks to push the bounds of limitation by giving you small blocks that can be arranged in any way. Each cube has magnets sealed inside that allow you to build structures that wouldn’t be possible with non-magnetic blocks. You can combine the individual blocks into one larger block, use that to build a base, and then continue on using the smaller blocks. CubeCraft cubes can also be further customized with stickers, LEDs or other geekery.

The Pitch. The CubeCraft campaign itself builds primarily off two videos — a still-heavy unnarrated one that shows many configurations of the progress and a secondary one that introduces the creators and provides a lot of information. The partners tell how they came together, what they’re asking for, how their designs are safe for children over the age of 5, what your funding will go toward, and how these blocks could be used to ease stress or in the classroom. Sure, the developers may be a little camera shy, but they know a lot about their products and showcase them as well as they can.

The Perks. For $27, you receive the “stress” set (the name of which proves they’re marketing these toys to adults as well). It consists of eight cubes and would be great for people who need something to do with their hands while they’re working. The prices and set sizes go up from there, $121 for the “inventor set” with 64 cubes and $299 for the classroom set with 216 pieces. These toys would definitely spark imagination in children and adults alike.

The Potential. New toys that aren’t digital are in high demand. Many parents don’t want their kids on computer games all the time, but kids are bored by regular blocks. CubeCraft would definitely keep the kids interested and the parents happy.


Snaak is not your child’s building block toy

editors-choiceThe Premise. Lego lovers, rejoice! This new interlocking toy is going to be one of the coolest inventions of this century. Legos have held their place in the toy-building history, but it’s time to develop something new for a generation of kids who live on computers.

The Product. The Snaak is made up of 64 interlocking transparent cubes that can be arranged in thousands of different shapes. By twisting and turning each cube, you can create almost infinite designs, and transform the blocks from one shape to the other very easily. They used the number 64 because it is the first number that is both a perfect square (8×8) and a cube (4x4x4). This leads to the many, many possible combinations of shapes. They supply the mathematical forum that tells the user how there are more possible combinations of this toy than there are atoms in the universe.

The Pitch. This Kickstarter video is made entirely out of stop-motion, which is essentially a series of still photographs run together very quickly. This really shows off a lot of different shapes, and because it is a black background with just the product and the hands, it really showcases the Snaak. However, the photos move very fast, so it’s difficult to tell exactly how you would move the pieces to configure the shapes. That being said, it does make you want to get your hands on one and play with it.

The Perks. Beyond the $25 early bird special, you can donate $45 and get a multi-colored Snaak (and pick the order of the colors), and for $100, you receive five of the Snaak sets. This toy is complex enough that it will entertain kids who are used to playing computer games, and you won’t be losing all of the pieces. This is also great for adults who like to do Rubiks’ Cube type toys that love the complexity and kinesthetic properties of toys like this.

The Potential. Snaak has broad appeal and even some potential prototyping functionality beyond its entertainment value. It’s easy to see it showing up in a wide range of retailers from Brookstone to Toys R Us. One gets the sense that once people get a taste of Snaak, they may be back for seconds!