Toys for Young Hackers
While we grew up addicted to games like Atari, Pong, Tetris, and Tron, apparently our kids get to develop games like that on their own. Below, a handful of companies that are making open-ended toys, robots, and computers that teach kids how games and computers are made—and then give them the chance to take over the mainframe.
With clients like Microsoft, TED, and Burberry, digital innovation company Made By Many has a full docket already, and yet they’ve found the time to create a groundbreaking toy for kids as a “side project.” Designed in collaboration with England’s design team of the moment, Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby’s MAP, they are launching their hack-able—hence the name—ball on Kickstarter this week. Seemingly simple, it’s a ball that lights up/vibrates/makes noises when you do certain things to it, like throw it, squeeze it, run quickly/slowly, etc. The genius is that it comes with an app that kids can program around these functions, creating seemingly endless possibilities of games of their own design. Those who contribute to their Kickstarter will earn a prototype to hack for themselves.
Originally created to encourage designers to use electronics in their products, the hard-core electrical engineers behind Little Bits soon discovered how fun their mini circuit board modules could be for a much wider audience, kids included. And so they launched a slew of modules, each with its own function, that can easily snap together in a Lego-like manner, to create DIY toys and gadgets—anything from DIY synth, to an AC controlling device, to an app-activated alarm clock, to a tiny machine that opens and closes your curtains at daybreak and night. Truth be told, the kits are expensive, and may need some parental guidance, but worth it for kids and adults to play together and create fun and function at home.
Step 1: Build a computer. Combine a keyboard, a circuit board, a speaker, a few cables, a wifi dongle, and an SD card, an OS, and you’ve got it. Step 2: Make your own games. That’s what kids learn when they put this kid and adult-friendly kit together. Once built and connected to a screen, you can code and hack games like Snake and Minecraft. Clearly, it struck a chord with kids and parents alike, having earned $15 million on Kickstarter when it first launched in 2013.
We’re pretty smitten with the couple behind this company: They’re an ex-branding guru and an artist/tech genius who fell in love, got married, and after having their first child, decided to launch a digital learning platform for the next generation. Not surprisingly, given their backgrounds, they make beautifully designed kits—for which they’re already winning awards—for kids (and adults) that show us how computers are wired and how games are coded. So far they’ve made play-doh that you can light up, a solar-powered plant watering device, speakers that will play through anything from balloons, to drums, etc., and a gamer kit that resembles a Gameboy, that teaches how to code. Even more genius, most of the kits’ components are assembled in their studio in Hackney, London, though they ship around the world.