Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Toy Alive: LEGO and Sony are working on adding electronics to building blocks

Two things we really like around here are LEGO and tech, and a new project called Toy Alive is looking to bring them together. Japanese tech company Sony are working with LEGO to add some tech wizardry to building blocks.

Japan Times reports on a demo that was on display at an open day at Sony Computer Science Laboratories Inc. The project aims to combine the features of construction toys and video games to create and imaginative and interactive experience for kids.

The team have been adding tiny electronics components to LEGO bricks to give them motors, lights and the ability to be controlled using a Sony PlayStation controller.

Now I'm sure some people will be of the opinion that LEGO is fine without adding electronics too it. But LEGO are concerned that kids are spending more and more time with digital devices and less with physical toys. And learning about technology adds another dimension to the imaginative and spatial skills that kids gain from LEGO.

In our house although gadgets are popular, LEGO definitely wins the popularity contest. It's very rare that a day goes by without the building blocks coming out. But, my kids are very aware of technology. We also play / create with littleBits and Snap Circuits. They have started asking whether we can add a motor or lights to their creations. This seems very natural to them and I can see things heading in that direction.

Now, you can get some automation components for LEGO Technic and there's LEGO Mindstorms for building robots. But what I'm seeing in Toy Alive is something that's much closer to the everyday LEGO experience of building with blocks and minifigs. My kids are big Ninjago fans and are starting to get interested in CHIMA too, both of these themes have physical game elements. Adding electronics to LEGO game themes makes a lot of sense.

I think the possibilities for kids being able to make their own interactive worlds are potentially more important than the gaming aspect. At the moment we have littleBits which are LEGO-like snap together electronics and we have LEGO pieces. We often end up trying to make them work together, but they're not designed to fit together so this can be a bit frustrating.

We'll be getting a LEGO Mindstorms set, but that's something quite different. It uses LEGO pieces but you're building a single large robot (unless you have multiple expensive sets.) Toy Alive looks like it works at standard LEGO scale which offers something quite different. 

My kids love making scenes and habitats for LEGO minifigs and the characters that they build. They would love small-scale electronics that would allow them to make their models do stuff. I really hope the project heads in that direction and we get LEGO-compatible mini electronics.

Meanwhile we'll have to make do with our KRE-O LightTech and K'Nex Sound Brick. And we do have a couple of LEGO light bricks.

Here's a video showing a demo on Toy Alive. It's just a research project at the moment, but I'm interested to see what it turns into.

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