If you’re a parent of young children and you have a smartphone, then you’re probably all too familiar with the apparently irresistible appeal of the smartphone where kids are concerned. Put the thing down within reach of a curious toddler and the next thing you know you’re replacing a cracked screen, explaining to your mother-in-law that her grandchild is not making a distress call, or trying to retrieve thousands of deleted photos. Now your Android or iPhone will have added appeal when it’s combined with your kid’s other favorite toy — those colorful, plastic building blocks that seem to grow sharp edges in the carpet when the lights are dim or off. Lego® bricks, the invention of a Danish carpenter, Ole Kirk Christensen, in 1932, for the most part replaced traditional wooden building blocks.
One of the major attractions of the Lego system of blocks is that they can be connected rather than simply precariously stacked like wooden blocks. In more recent decades, the sets have become both more extensive and complex, including sets with specific themes (my enduring favorite is the Lego castle). The low-tech appeal of the bricks has also persisted as children’s toys have become more sophisticated. Now one ingenious tinkerer, designer, and software and hardware engineer, Peter Varga from Bratislava, Slovakia, has figured out how to combine 3D printing, smartphones, some fairly basic electronics and the internationally-beloved Lego brick to create automated toys for kids (and kids-at-heart).
Varga’s RC-Brick lets you create toys from your child’s favorite brick (Lego and similar plastic, connectable building blocks). His Kickstarter site — with a fundraising goal of £65,000 by February 5th — explains how the RC-Brick interfaces with your smartphone to create automated toys and other objects, like a rotating table fountain, a revolving globe, and even an apple peeler! All such automated devices, including the toys, are powered by your phone, which connects to the RC-Brick via a micro-USB cable.
Varga has designed an app, which currently features twelve different themes. Each theme controls movement and also provides sound effects. Let’s say you or your child (as with Lego and other plastic, interlocking block systems, the RC-Brick automated toys are appropriate for children age four and up) selects the firefighter toy and complementary app. When automated, you’ll hear the sound of sirens as you navigate your miniature fire engine.
For the moment, Varga is using extant bricks to create the RC-Brick components he offers — a winch, a wheel motor, and a rotor. He hopes to have the capacity soon, however, to 3D print all of the parts. For that matter, while he feels he has a good design for the wheel motor and rotor, he’s still refining the winch brick. He’s also working on automating the bricks independent of the smartphone using a wireless controller, although we assume the app would still be used at least for sound effects. He adds that his goal is not to replace Legos and similar toys, but to create systems for augmenting them to make them even more enjoyable.
We’re looking forward to seeing where Varga goes with the menacing-looking 3D printed T-Rex skull, which he evidently intends to automate so that the jaw opens and closes, although that may be a toy solely for us big kids. Let us know what you’re most looking forward to! Join the discussion over at the RC-Brick forum thread at 3DPB.com. Check out the Kickstarter campaign video below.