Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sifteo: Re-Imagining the Building Block

Growing up playing building blocks, board games, and Nintendo, David Merrill and Jeevan Kalanithi longed for the days when playing games did not mean burying your head in a touchscreen. Seeing their own children engrossed in tablets and smartphones and sometimes shutting out the rest of the world, the pair wondered if there was a better way for technology and play to come together. So as graduate students at the MIT Media Lab, they set out to design new physical interfaces that would rethink human-computer interaction. One day they imagined going through a pile of digital data as if it were Legos, and this led to the idea for Sifteo Cubes, the award-winning tactile game system that makes classic play interactive.

In 2009, Merrill was invited to present Sifteo on the main stage at the TED conference. The video of the talk went viral, going on to become one of the “top 5 most engaging TED talks” of all time. Realizing that Sifteo was “more than just a cool research project,” Merrill and Kalanithi seized the opportunity to turn their idea into an actual product. Within months, they had moved to San Francisco and were building a company.

Sifteo Cubes are interactive blocks built on the play patterns of Legos, domino tiles, and building blocks. Ready to play out of the box, they communicate wirelessly with each other and respond to your gestures. As Merrill explains, “It's taking the wooden blocks you grew up playing with and giving them this digital life.”

Sifteo comes with three cubes and four pre-installed games, but you can add more cubes and download additional games for more fun. Sifteo's growing game library currently includes Chroma Splash, Word Caravan, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Ninja Slide, and Code Cracker. The system is available at select e-tailers, retailers, and New York's MoMA Store. According to Merrill, “We really care about building play experiences that are beneficial to kids, that parents can feel good about.”

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