Earlier this month we featured some novel building blocks that help teach robotics to kids, and grew from a project at Carnegie Mellon University. Now it's MIT's turn, with the Sifteo Cubes – 1.5-inch gaming blocks sporting full color screens that respond to motion, and interact with the player and each other as they are moved around. Games and apps can be bought online and wirelessly transferred onto the cubes via an internet-connected computer or laptop. The current title catalog includes adult games, puzzles for kids, and challenges and games that people can play together.

MIT Media Lab students David Merrill and Jeevan Kalanithi first came up with the idea for the Sifteo prototype while studying human-computer interaction. They discovered that some of the most popular non-computer games over the years have involved players picking up and moving physical objects, an element of gameplay which has been mostly overlooked by legacy digital gaming manufacturers.

"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 give families and individuals a more 'natural' way to have fun."

In order to play with the Sifteo Cubes, players will first need to install some software on an internet-connected OS X or Windows computer or laptop. A wireless USB link lets players transfer downloaded games and apps to the cubes over a 2.4GHz connection, then the fun can begin. The company says that the computer or laptop needs to talk to the cubes during gameplay and that the USB link has a range of about 20 feet (6 meters). If you go out of range, the game pauses until you bring them closer to the link.

Each 1.6 x 1.6 x 0.74-inch (4.3 x 4.3 x 1.9 cm) cube contains a 32-bit processor, a push-button clickable 128 x 128 resolution color display, a 3-axis accelerometer and a no-touch neighbor sensor. The device is made from ABS and PC plastic (but it's not waterproof) and is powered by a rechargeable Li-polymer battery that's said to offer at least four hours of gaming before needing more juice. The cubes will automatically shut down after a few minutes of inactivity to conserve charge, but a six bay charging dock is included, and can hide away the USB link underneath when not in use.

Sifteo games will work with up to six cubes, and the system has been designed for use by anyone aged six and above.

The Sifteo Cubes have been penciled in for a Q3 release and will be priced at US$149 for a set of three.

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