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Sifteo cubes combine digital and tangible entertainment into one

By Damir Beciri
11 January 2011

sifteo-cubesA while ago, we wrote about Siftables – a different approach used for information interaction which allows physical and natural way to interact with information. David Merrill and Jeevan Kalanithi, the folks that initially made the prototype while they were students at the human-computer interaction at the MIT Media Lab, co-founded Sifteo Inc. and presented Sifteo cubes at the Consumer Electronics Show 2011.

“New sensing technologies have changed the face of gaming in just a few years”, said Merrill. “We believe that Sifteo cubes are the next leap forward in game play.”

Sifteo cubes are wireless 1.5-inch blocks with full-color screens that respond to motion and interact with the player and each other, as soon as they are picked up and moved around. During gameplay, the cubes communicate with a nearby computer via the USB wireless link. You’ll get the best performance nearby your computer, within half a meter (a few feet) of the USB wireless link. In good conditions the range can extend up to 6 meters (20 feet).  The cubes can work up to 4 hours before they need recharging.

After you install Sifteo application on a suitable OS (Mac OS X 10.5+ and Windows XP and 7), you select a game you wish to play and hit “Play”. A USB wireless link enables games and apps to be downloaded on to the Sifteo cubes for play. Sifteo’s game studio has built an initial collection of titles that will include challenging games for adults, learning puzzles for kids and games people can play together. Additional games and application can be bought via internet from the Sifteo’s online library which is accessible through the software.

They come in packages of 3, and the current software allows interaction between up to 6 cubes. Although it may be enough for interesting games, we’re a bit disappointed because it limits the number of elements used in learning games (such as spelling or math games).

Sifteo cubes are designed to used by adults and children older than 6. The USB wireless link can present a choking hazard for younger kids, and although they were designed to withstand some physical abuse, the cubes are sophisticated electronic devices which can be damaged or destroyed by very rough handling. If you want to get a toy for a younger child and you don’t have enough time to share the fun, Sifteo cubes are most likely not for you. Aside the help with reading or use, younger children without technical know-how will need a bit more help from tech-savvy people to connect Sifteo cubes to the computer and download games.

“Traditional game consoles have lost the tangible and interactive nature of classic tabletop games like Mahjong and dominoes, that bring people together”, said Kalanithi. “Players tell us that Sifteo cubes reduce ‘screen stare’, banish tired thumbs and give families and individuals a more ‘natural’ way to have fun.”

The folks from Sifteo had an Early Access Program which was introduced to consumers in order to give them an opportunity to buy Sifteo cubes at a discounted price before they go on sale throughout US. Unfortunately, they are all sold out at the moment, and the folks from Sifteo claim that the product will be more widely available later in 2011. They also plan to release a SDK in order to encourage development of new applications and games for their system.

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