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Monday, January 10, 2011

Sifteo Makes Playing with Blocks Fun, High Tech

Siftable blocks were one of the coolest pieces of technology shown off at 2009’s TED conference. The MIT project outfitted small square computers with tiny LCD screens, microprocessors, and accelerometers. The blocks could all communicate with each other and respond to movements, which allowed you to pour a digital liquid from one block to another or change their displays by placing multiple blocks together.

The Siftable project has advanced in the past two years: renamed Sifteo, the blocks shown off at this year’s CES have a new design and communicate with each other via Wi-Fi. And now they can play games.

Every Sifteo cube is powered by an ARM microprocessor and a Li-Ion battery. The 128x128 pixel LCD display on each cube reacts to the built-in accelerometer. One of the games Sifteo has developed in-house, called Shaper, gives off a serious Tetris vibe: you have arrange blocks in the pattern displayed on each Sifteo screen within a time limit. That’s just a rudimentary example--Sifteo demonstrates some much cooler games on its website, and hopes to eventually open up the API to third-party developers.

The cubes must be connected to a computer via an included Wi-Fi USB dongle to run Sifteo software. The company opened up a limited early access program for Sifteo cubes and quickly sold out. They plan to retail the full product in the Fall at a starting price of $149 for three Sifteo cubes. Three cubes working together is cool, but the games get even more amazing as more blocks are added in. Check out the video below--we can see kids absolutely loving Booker the Penguin with half a dozen blocks in play at once.

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