ThinkFun Maker Studio

As I mentioned yesterday, the big theme of this year’s Toy Fair in New York is “joining the maker movement.” But to qualify as a genuine maker toy, a plaything should meet some basic criteria.  One new series of kits that fits my definition of a maker toy is the Maker Studio Construction Sets from ThinkFun.

The building sets are a departure for ThinkFun, which is better known for their logic games like Robot Turtles and Rush Hour, but completely in keeping with their theme of brain-building and hands-on fun. Designed by engineers David Yakos and Parker Thomas, the three Maker Studio sets — there are Gears, Propellers, and Winches — include struts, connectors, and moveable parts like wheels. It’s up the user to find a suitable body, and the sets encourage kids to look for recycled containers and materials to build out their projects, like the mac-and-cheese box racecar chassis. (See the video by Yakos below for his childhood inspiration for the idea.)

Each set includes directions for one model, and a booklet of “Engineering Challenges and Tips” with suggestions for improving and expanding on them, such as adding rubber bands to propel the race car. The sets can also be combined to create more complex machines, including a walking robot.

Best of all, ThinkFun will be open-sourcing all parts and new expansion pieces, making them available as free downloadable 3D printing files. The kits will be available nationwide in April, and will retail for $19.99, bringing them well within the budget for gifts or starting your own kids’ maker corner.