The concept of interactive “smart cubes” has been around for awhile, but the introduction of Sifteo brings the concept to full market realization. The basic idea is to have a set of wirelessly-connected blocks that have embedded MCUs and full-color LCD screens that change image and function in relation to the other blocks around them. The cool thing about Sifteo is that it uses your computer (connected via a USB wifi dongle) to handle most of the smarts and the audio. One of the fun things about this product is the Creativity Kit it ships with, which lets you design your own puzzle and word games (and more in the future), and the forthcoming Software Developer’s Kit, which will open up app development for the platform. It’s probably too early to tell if this tech is a gadget gimmick or something with deeper, long-standing utility. Right now, the (pre-order) price is a wee high, at $150 for the basic kit, and $45 for each additional cube, but one would assume that will come down.
Here’s some of what David Pogue has to say in his NYTimes column:
The breakthrough idea, dreamed up by a pair of M.I.T. students, has three parts. First, the cubes communicate with one another wirelessly; they know when they’re next to one another, and which side is against which side. (They don’t have to be touching; they can just be close.)
Second, they have very sensitive tilt sensors. Third, the top screen is clickable.
These three simple ideas, in combination, permit a huge range of games. In one, you guide a cartoon critter along a path by tipping his cube so that he slides onto the next one. In another, you unscramble words by sliding the tiles into the right order on the table. In another, you can click a screen to advance to the next game level.
David also did a silly little video to explain the basics of Sifteo. You can also find out more about the company’s thinking behind the product and its possible applications via their blog. They’ve shown their system, as it was being developed, at several Maker Faires.