I’m a huge fan of both Lego and Erector/Meccano Sets – I think they provide great tools for young builders to express their imaginations as well as simply have fun building and tearing down structures, vehicles, animals, and everything in between.
I’m also a fan of Kickstarter, a website that allows individuals, groups, and businesses to find funding for their special projects by posting videos, photos, and writeups about their ideas and asking the world to help by sponsoring projects via monetary donations. Kickstarter projects are set up so that a minimum level of funding must be met before the project can actually begin. If the funding requirement is met, all those who made a donation will have their credit cards charged — otherwise, no charge is made and the project doesn’t get the green light.
I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting things on Kickstarter, especially projects that kids can enjoy and that parents will approve. And I think I’ve found a great one — it’s called Blocklets.
Blocklets are small pieces cut from wood or acrylic that interlock and form stronger structures. If you visit the Blocklets Kickstarter page, you’ll see some videos and photos of the various things made from Blocklets, including spheres! (Okay, semi-spheres, but still… something round made from something flat!)
I was so impressed with the design that I made a donation to the project. If the Blocklets’ team gets the funding it needs ($22,500 — they have just over $18,000 at the time I’m writing this), I’ll be getting my very own set of Blockets cubes that are laser cut with my oldest son’s first name.
After making my purchase, I really wanted to know a little more about the project, the team behind it, and its goals with Blocklets. So I reached out and managed to get some of my questions answered by Gabe and Mark, the two gentlemen you’ll see if you watch the video on the Blocklets Kickstarter page. I’d like to thank them for taking the time to answer my questions (and providing the adorable photos on such short notice).
Blocklets: We want Blocklets to become the standard prototyping and building system for makers. We hope to create a system of interlocking pieces that can make anything from art to furniture to robots. We want the system to be not only fun and versatile, but also easily modified and expanded. If someone needs a particular piece that doesn’t exist they can design it and we can make it. This isn’t a system by Gabe and Mark, it’s a system by and for everyone.
B: Blocklets was built on some algorithms that Gabe had developed for other purposes, so with that foundation in place the time from the initial idea to first working prototype was a few hours. The very first Blocklets were made in July 2010. We have since standardized the block sizes, added multi-unit blocks, base plates, and tweaked the number and shape of teeth.
B: We went through hundreds of iterations of the basic shape. The shape is generated by a program written in Ruby which takes several parameters (sheet size, thickness, kerf, etc.) and outputs an svg file with Blocklets laid out ready to be cut. We’re on our seventh major revision of that program.
B: We went with wood because it has a tactile and visual warmth that is missing in plastic toys. Wood also invites you to experiment in ways that you might not with plastic — you can easily glue it, cut it, drill it if your project calls for it. We also liked the juxtaposition between the wood and clear acrylic. At this stage, we want to make Blocklets in the most flexible way possible. Laser cutting from sheet stock allows us to modify and add pieces to the system with no additional tooling cost. The shape is well suited to injection molding and extrusion, so plastic and metal pieces are in the plans.
B: The wooden parts break in over the first several “clicks.” After the initial break-in the engagement force remains stable for hundreds of cycles. The acrylic parts have more stable engagement — we have found no discernible wear in the acrylic parts in our testing.
GD: What are the limitations for Blocklets users who have their own 3D printers and/or laser cutters? Will users be able to create their own Blocklets kits for sale?
B: We are licensing the design under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. This means that anyone can download our plans, make them and modify them for non-commercial purposes, as long as they share their work under a similar license and give proper credit to Blocklets. We highly encourage anybody and everybody to download the plans for Blocklets and make them for their own personal use, but we will retain the rights to sell Blocklets. We further encourage the community to develop new components and suggest modifications to the existing designs for Blocklets. We’ll be hosting contests with prizes to spur on development.
B: We have the whole exercise of setting up a business ahead of us. We hope we can get onto some store shelves soon. We can’t wait to see what develops!
B: We’ve already got some in the works. We’ve got base plates, reinforcing pieces, and servo, motor, and Arduino controller mounts that are nearly ready. We’re working on a system of gears, wheels, shafts and bearings. We’ll also introduce triangular, pentagonal and hexagonal pieces soon.
B: We wanted to get this out in front of people as soon as we could. Kickstarter is an excellent vehicle for that.
B: Absolutely. Blocklets are unique in that the design, materials, and production methods encourage innovation and participation from everyone. It would cost many thousands of dollars and take several weeks to produce a new piece for the other systems. With Blocklets, we can produce new designs in minutes with no tooling costs. We also see applications for Blocklets in furniture and architecture. Finally, the Blocklets connections are omni-directional, so you can build things with Blocklets that would be difficult with the other systems.