Topobo: A Novel Construction Set with Kinetic Memory

Reading Time: 2 minutes

My kids and I had a real treat this afternoon. We were paid a visit by Hayes Raffle: MIT
Media Lab
guru, ZOOB co-inventor, and more recently, inventor of Topobo, a 3D
construction set with “kinetic memory”.

Dsc_0003Dsc_0003The primary purpose of Hayes’ visit was to give us a hands-on demonstration of Topobo. The
Topobo system is comprised of ten primitives that are connected with plastic pins. Nine of these primitives are colorful, passive linkages. The tenth is a motorized controller (an “Active”) that handles local memory, processing, and power distribution. The Active forms dynamic connections which allow the system to reproduce manual manipulations to a structure.

Creating structures is simple. The fun part comes when you attempt to endow your creation with the ability to move. Press a button on the Active and give your structure one or more twists. Press the button again and watch the Active(s) cycle repetitively through your motions.  Did it do what you expected? Did it crawl across the floor? Did it dance in a circle? Did it undulate back and forth? Press the button on the Active and give it another set of motion commands. Watch what it does now. Experiment. Trial and error.

Dsc_0007Dsc_0007Topobo is a fun way to teach young kids about center of mass/center of gravity, balance, coordination, and relative motion. It’s also simply a fun time.

Hayes will be presenting his recent research at the Seminar on People,
Computers, and Design
at Stanford
University on January 16, 2009 (12:30-2:00
PM Gates B01


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