Tio-2-38.originalParents today are very often challenged to find ways to keep kids of all ages occupied. It seems to be a world of screens we are living in, and entertainment overload via television, computers, phones, tablets, and video games is a common worry.

We want to see the brains of our next generations well-nurtured—after all, aren’t we all busy raising young humans who will undoubtedly be hailed as the geniuses, the presidents, the neurosurgeons, and the business moguls? While it’s great to have lofty ambitions, and a select few will indeed succeed to those positions, if you take a look around at the successful startups and innovations lighting up the world today, it certainly seems that stressing the STEM agenda is necessary from within the household too—let’s not just leave it to the government and the teachers.

While my children have heard ‘you should be an engineer’ more times than they would like at this point, there are other routes to encourage their interest—from taking them to 3D printing expos to getting involved with their science fairs, art contests, and encouraging them to join activities that can actually be fun—like math clubs.

Technology, however, seems to be seeping in from every corner when it comes to children’s lives. How can we harness that better for learning purposes instead of a encouraging a growing vegetative state or a gaming addiction that has you googling contemporary rehab centers? Companies like Tio have the right idea in terms of educating while engaging kids and allowing them to have enormous fun, challenges, and results which are quite empowering. Founded by a group of three dynamic young men, the product is exactly what many parents and educators are looking for, and this company as a whole serves as a great model for young people who may also seek one day to be entrepreneurs and create their own startups.

With the Tio kit, the only screens involved are those which manipulate a wide array of app-controlled toys and inventions that you and your family can make with everyday objects and materials like old toys, recycled and craft materials, LEGOs, gadgets and even 3D prints.

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Each kit features nine pop-and-fold invention templates as a starting point, before users go on to creating and exploring combinations of different materials and different inventions. The templates include a lighthouse, climber, windmill and helicopter.

“It’s based on some great innovative technology and has the needs of its customers–children and their parents–firmly in mind. Tio could really contribute to enthusing young people about engineering and be a thoroughly enjoyable part of their STEM experience,” said David Landsman, Executive Director of Tata Limited.

‘Animate the world around you,’ the Tio team invites, offering technology meant for all ages, even for children as young as three; in fact, kids and parents have created items such as moving LEGO robots, a water bottle racer, craft UFO and even a 3D printed race buggy or mini-robot. With the smartphone app, kids can ‘teach’ these items to do tasks even, such as lifting and carrying objects, navigating obstacles, flapping wings, and even flashing coded messages.

dbf4c4f73769c36c8841e777e4d6eada_original“As a child I vividly remember that I couldn’t make my toys and inventions move without a little help from gravity. I started thinking, what if there was a magic engine to do that? Fast forward 20 years and I set out to invent my dream toy to be enjoyed by kids of all ages,” says Peter Spence, co-founder and inventor of Tio.

Motorized blocks with built-in LED rings, adapters, pulleys, and wheels are included, and allow for easy attachment to the items kids might be using, with the idea that they can turn a portion of their environment into an interactive learning area.

The kit’s storybook offers up a cast of characters who invite kits to imaginary worlds, and guide them through creating with the kit, using simple steps. A smartphone app is also a big part of the convenience factor with the Tio kit as it allows for wifi communication and consequently, easy customizing and programming. It includes:

  • Connect Mode  connect and pair blocks
  • Drive Mode – drag up and down to drive
  • Colour Mode  drag to change LED colors
  • Animation Mode – drag up and down to increase and decrease LED speed
  • Program Mode – record and play back movements and color patterns

There is the availability even to do some programming, but that is not required.

“We believe it should be simple and fun for anyone, anywhere to easily create their own toys and inventions that can be controlled with a smartphone or tablet. By combining craft and tech, we aim to inspire the next generation with a new way of inventing, playing and learning together,” said Mario Morello, co-founder of Tio.

2629c0de3f25d98686b5e005a4e27e09_originalThe Tio kits are part of a campaign just launched on Kickstarter in hopes of raising $69,255 by April 4. With the funds, their goal is to get manufacturing and production ‘up and running.’ For those interested in backing, for just under $100 as an early bird, you’ll receive the Create Kit, which is chock full of goodies, to include: 2 blocks, 1 iOS/Android app, 1 storybook, 9 invention templates, 2 wheels, 2 tires, 2 pulleys, 2 adapters, 5 magnetic mounts, 4 sticky tabs, 1 caster, 2 charge cables and 30 stickers.

You can add a bit extra for personalization, and a 3D printing credit for 3D Hubs is included as well. Prices ascend with volume, even going as far up as nearly $7,000 for a package deal if schools and other organizations are interested in ordering.

With the emphasis on inspiring the new generations to focus on and enjoy technology, they are also, of course, working to integrate the Tio kits into education and they are currently being used in schools as interactive STEM learning tools.

“Educational toy manufacturers come and go, with little regard for the impact they could have on any child’s development. But Tio are not like that. This team has impressed us with the rigor of their educational research and the value they place on nurturing children’s creativity (and that of their parents),” says Ruth Churchill Dower, Director at Earlyarts, the award winning national network for early childhood educators. “We’re really thrilled to see them going from strength to strength and I look forward to seeing Tio sparking off new ideas between parents and children for many years to come.”

d69833b84e78bceb3d44b89649524930_originalTio is also planning to expand their safe online community for young inventors to find inspiration, join challenges, unlock badges, download construction templates, crowd-source innovations and exchange new ideas. Powered by Creatubbles, the online community already allows children to share their first invention ideas, mock-ups and drawings.

“Tio clearly demonstrates the power of combining digital technology with hands-on creative play. With a supportive adult, the possibilities for inspiring children to create are truly exciting,” said Learning Scientist Dr. Andrew Manches.

Undoubtedly, the kits offer a great jumping-off point for inspiration, invention, and projects, and they offer another way to learn besides sitting behind a desk and looking at a chalkboard. With this type of creative play, skills of the future are not just being learned, they are being enjoyed. The Tio team works to instill skillsets that also encourage independent and creative thinking, team work, critical problem solving, design, engineering, and technology. Discuss in the Tio Kits & 3D Printed Models forum over at 3DPB.com.

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