San Francisco's Sifteo Inc has confirmed that its cube-based, interactive educational gameplay system we looked at back in March is now ready for release in the U.S. and Canada. The Sifteo Cubes system takes timeless building blocks play and learning and gives it a modern update - with a color display, embedded computer system and sensing technology.

Since making its product debut at CES 2011, the folks at Sifteo have been working on improving gameplay, developing a Sifteo Creativity Kit, hired folks to help develop the games offered - such as a teacher and some Stanford University interns - and working with leading game and interface designers like Scott Kim, Tyler Hinman and Stimulant. Now everything is finally in place for general release.

Sifteo told us that the hardware is much the same as it was when we first brought the system to the attention of Gizmag readers in March - the upper face being 1.5-inches (3.8 cm) square with a push-button clickable 128 x 128 pixel resolution color display, having a 3-axis accelerometer and a sensor which detects a neighboring cube without needing to touch it, and wirelessly connecting to a computer or laptop during gameplay.

Sifteo's Intelligent Play platform aims to use innovative technology to combine entertainment and learning. Physical interaction with the game titles offered by the system is said to help develop eight core thinking skills - such as understanding relationships between the distance and orientation of objects, problem solving and strategy, the ability to classify items, understand trends and develop hypotheses, and social interaction and team work. Each cube can sense the presence of another and react accordingly, and behavior alters according to shaking, tilting, rotating action and placement.

"We were inspired by great, classic games such as Sudoku, Tetris and even dominoes when we set out to create the next generation of enriching, innovative and fun games for kids and adults," said Sifteo's co-founder and CEO David Merrill.

User customization - such as personalized game building, puzzle creation or tailored learning elements like word list building and flashcard creation - is made possible with the newly-developed Sifteo Creativity Kit, which is included with every purchase.

"Sifteo has designed an educational play platform that relates extraordinarily well to children of all ages," said Dr. Victoria Matthews, founder and former director of the Montessori School of Ojai, California. "There is no limit to how parents and educators can use Sifteo cubes to combine fun and learning in a unique way that engages today's digital kid."

To play a game, a user will first need to install the Siftrunner software client on an internet-connected Mac or PC. Games can then be downloaded to the computer from Sifteo's online store. A USB wireless link plugged into the computer sends the games and apps over to the cubes and communicates with them during gameplay.

A Sifteo software development kit (SDK) is also being made available at launch to allow developers to create new ways for users to interact with digital content and physical objects.

For the time being, the Sifteo Pack - which includes three cubes, a charging hub sporting places for six cubes, and a USB radio link for wirelessly connecting the cubes to a PC over a 2.4GHz connection (for downloading the latest Sifteo games) - will be available only from the company's online store for US$149.

Marketing strategies are under constant review, though, so the Sifteo gaming experience may well expand to other online portals such as Amazon and beyond to retail outlets in the future. Announcements of such extended availability will appear on the website.

Additional Sifteo Cubes can be added to the setup at a cost of US$45 each and up to six cubes can be used at any one time for gameplay. A collection of arcade, strategy, language and puzzle games has been added to the online store, which are priced at US$5 each or less.

The Sifteo Cubes system is currently up for pre-order, shipping is scheduled to start next month.

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