Michael Rosenblatt, design lead behind the first iPod touch, has a point to make about toys. Not all toys. Just the best kind: the ones that enable children (and grown-ups, let's be honest) to create things, be it from LEGO, K-NEX, crayons, paints or Play-Doh. The thing is, they're generally a little on the inert side. With ATOMS from ATOMS Express Toys, Rosenblatt is hoping to redress the balance with a series of modules that can be fitted to other toys (including LEGO) to effectively turn them into moving and sensing robots.
Of course, toys do exist already that allow children to make robots and machines. LEGO Mindstorms springs to mind, though, as Rosenblatt notes, this requires programming experience (or at least a willingness to get to grips with coding.) Good old Meccano has let the mechanically minded tinkerer create moving machines for years, but (even with a few unconvincing forays into robotics,) Meccano is not the best choice for making remote- or self-controlling machines.
ATOMS, by contrast, are designed to be extremely simple. "In fact, kids can make all sorts of cool stuff within five minutes of taking ATOMS out of the box," boasts the Kickstarter page, which claims no electronics or programming knowledge, or even adult supervision, is needed.
What are ATOMS exactly? They're a series of small plastic boxes (called modules) which each contain electronics tailored to a specific function. Initially, 13 modules will be available, which will include the obligatory motors, battery brick and light sensors, as well as such exciting fare as iOS control bricks, infrared emitters and sensors, and an "exploding brick" sure to reduce any LEGO model to a pile of polychrome rubble.
They're designed to be connected to a variety of toys. The underside is compatible with standard LEGO studs, and the sides accommodate LEGO Technica pegs. Each module comes with a Velcro pad underneath and a sticker you can attach to a surface of choice. To communicate with eachother, those modules that don't communicate wirelessly can be connected by standard 2.5-mm jack audio leads.
The first sets available will be a Monster Construction Set to build a monster-robot than avoids the light and seeks out the dark, and a Magic Wand Set to create a "magic wand" remote control that can "turn on your nightlight, move a toy, or close a door with a shake of the wand." Plus it includes an exploding wand so that budding warlocks can wreak wanton destruction upon their toys. There will also be an iOS Control Set designed to adapt other toys into high-tech remote-controlled versions of themselves.
Pledges can be exchanged for actual ATOMS sets. Though these are initially (and wisely) limited in number, they do offer decent discounts on the final retail price. The Monster Construction Set can be had for US$49, the Magic Wand Set for $59 and the iOS Control Set for $79. Completists can snap up all three for $200. The first sets are due to ship in June, though all investors will receive an induction email to "ATOMS University" in time for the holidays.
If you're curious about that exploding brick, this video should sate your wants.