The fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are set to become some of the biggest employers in the future, so it makes sense to start piquing the interest of kids at a young age. STEM toys are already teaching kids the basics of coding, robotics and electronic circuits, and now gaming giant Nintendo is jumping in with Labo, a set of DIY cardboard construction kits that turn the versatile Switch console into things like a playable piano or wearable robot suit.
Each kit comes with sheets of press-out cardboard pieces that fold and assemble into accessories that Nintendo calls "Toy-Con" – a play on the system's Joy-Con controllers. The Switch's screen and Joy-Con controllers then slot into different parts of these creations, lending their various sensors and functions to bring the handmade toys to life.
To make the Toy-Con Motorbike more than just a set of cardboard handlebars, a Joy-Con is inserted into each side. There, the controllers pick up gestures to drive a bike shown on the Switch's screen, mounted in the middle. Twisting the right handle, for example, works as the throttle, while turning the handlebars left or right steers the virtual motorbike.
These kits seem to get pretty complex, too. The Toy-Con Fishing Rod has a working reel and line, with one Joy-Con in charge of spinning the crank and the other sending vibrations down the rod to let you know when you've got a virtual bite.
But the real capper is the Toy-Con Robot, which includes a pulley-packed backpack, a visor and ankle attachments. It looks like four Joy-Con are needed for this to work: One sits in the visor to monitor head movements, one clips to each ankle to track your steps, and the last slots into the backpack, using the infrared sensor to watch over the pulley's movements as you punch and thrust with your arms. All of these gestures are translated to a giant robot on the TV screen, which is bordering on a makeshift Nintendo VR system.
While the Labo kits are definitely geared towards younger players, it's no stretch to imagine older Switch owners donning the cardboard Toy-Cons once the kids are in bed. They're sure not for everyone, but Labo is a real testament to Nintendo's relentless creativity with its hardware.
Nintendo Labo launches worldwide on April 20 with two kits. The Robot Kit packs the wearable mech suit for US$79.99, while the Variety Kit includes pieces to build a Toy-Con RC Car, Fishing Rod, House, Motorbike and Piano for $69.99. To dress up the crafty creations, the Customization Set includes stickers and stencils for $9.99.
Check out Nintendo Labo in action in the video below.
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