Why be a square when you can be a cube? This is the question I found myself asking myself (and rather sadly having a detailed debate with myself about) when I discovered what is sure to be the next killer item for adult kids.
Cubelets are little robots in the shape of a cube that can be put together in any order. Woo! The clever thing is that each one has a function whether that function is as a specific sensor, a motor with a wheel, a speaker or whatever. These functions interact with each other depending on how you’ve put the cubes together so a light sensor cube connected to a speaker cube will make the robot talk as it gets brighter. If we wanted it to talk as it gets darker then we’d add the inverse cube between the two and the reverse effect would happen. Maybe we want our robot to drive towards light? Just put a driving block attached to a light sensor and it’ll do so. More complex behaviours can be added by adding more blocks to your design. That robot that drives towards light may have an inverse block and microphone attached which would make it reverse away from sounds. It may also have a motion sensor on that causes it to investigate movement (or run away from it when used with an inverse block). Hey congratulations team, we’ve made a robot rat. There are more blocks available that determine what to do with the data that the sensors have brought on board and these “think blocks” can produce some quite unexpected and organic results.
The base of each robot that can be built with Cubelets is the battery block, but you can keep adding as many as you want to that and they’ll all be powered by it so your only other limit is your imagination… and your wallet. A pack of twenty assorted Cubelets costs $300 and can be ordered here, although they’re out of stock at the time of writing. The standard kit contains the following blocks:- 2 Drive, 1 Rotate, 1 Speaker, 1 Flashlight, 1 Bar Graph (shows a display of the strength of something), 1 Knob (can be used as an on switch or to deactivate certain properties), 1 Brightness, 2 Distance, 1 Temperature, 2 Inverse, 1 Minimum (accepts only the smallest input from a sensor), 1 Maximum (accepts only the highest input from a sensor), 1 Battery, 2 Passive (basic building blocks that carry data to their neighbours but don’t do anything special themselves), 2 Blocker (allows power to pass through but acts as a dead end for data). These are more than enough to build some quite complex robots with animal-like behaviours, but true Skynet aficionados will want to buy booster packs of passive and blocker Cubelets as well as extra packs of sensors and more action blocks.
Cubelets are the illegitimate love child of Eric Schweikardt and were originally called roBlocks, which I personally think is a more marketable name. They were designed as a way to show the potential of modular robotics. “I started to add more functionality into the different cubes and Cubelets evolved out of that. I never intended to make and sell a product, but after the 20th lab visitor asked when they could buy them, I started to warm to the idea.”
Good boy, now get to work on the machine gun and rocket launcher cubes and I’ll be your best customer.