A start-up toy maker has launched a fun line of connected building-block modules with sensors, motors and digital output that kids can use to create electronic devices from scratch.
The company is Seamless Toy Co., one of several new toy outfits popping up in Boulder, Colo. These cool little ATOMS Express toys are currently a prototype product line in Kickstarter fundraising mode.
Bricks That Communicate
ATOMS are pretty straightforward. There are two sets of modules, blue for input and green for output, that players can connect to build whatever they like. On the input side are visible- and infrared-light sensors, accelerometers and a Bluetooth-enabled iOS-app managed control brick that turns code into action. Outputs includes infrared signals, motors and record-and-playback sound modules, to name a few.
There's a subtle but necessary point to be made about ATOMS toys, though. They are Lego-compatible, but ATOMS shouldn't be lumped into the Lego-based articulation-devices category (encouraging as that category is). The real value and fun is the way ATOMS can be easily linked with universal and consistent connections, which teach just as much about electroncs and engineering as building neat toys.
In a way, the ATOMS line is reminiscent of older, dare I say classic technologies that used to immerse kids get into the guts of technology and science.
ATOMS Express founder and CEO Michael Rosenblatt holds up the old Apple ][ game Robot Odyssey as an example of this kind of tinkering. Players could program a number of on-screen robots to function as helpers during gameplay. The Timex Sinclair 1000 computer was a more hard-core version of the same concept: Give kids the tools with which to play and see what they can build.
"Kids can build functionality as they can think of it," Rosenblatt explained during a recent online demo session.
Open? Maybe Down The Road
Right now, the company is still cautiously debating how far Seamless will go with opening ATOMS to additional programming and hacking. Given that many members of the ATOMS engineering team are well-versed in the broader hardware community, it's not wholly unexpected that hackers will want to make additions to ATOMS devices as soon as they get their hands on them, explained Internal Operations Manager Shannon McCoy. Rosenblatt added that it is possible that connections to Arduino shields or even Raspberry Pi systems will be added.
For now, the target audience is kids who just want to build cool stuff. After all, the world can always use more hackers, and toys like this seem a pretty good place to start.
Title image courtesy of Seamless Toy Company, Inc.