Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Later this year, the startup Sifteo, based in San Francisco, will bring to market handheld, computerized cubes that can sense each other and run a variety of interactive programs. Recently, Technology Review got a chance to review the blocks ahead of their launch.

By adding computing power to blocks, the founders hope they can create a new kind of game interface—one that keeps users connected to the physical world but also provides intelligent feedback. Sifteo blocks come in sets of three, though people can use up to six for a single application. The blocks contain sensors to detect their orientation and position with respect to other blocks. A block knows when the user flips it over, tilts it, places it near other blocks, or presses on its display screen.

To use the blocks, a person has to install the “Siftrunner” program on a Mac or PC and plug a wireless link into the computer’s USB port. From there, the computer coordinates the software running on the blocks and keeps them operating in sync. Users can download applications to run on the blocks from an app store that’s accessible through the program.

The games currently available for the blocks, created by the company’s in-house developers, highlight the potential of Sifteo. For example, the company has made a demonstration game that displays letters on the blocks’ screens. Users can build words by organizing the blocks and touching them together. The tactile process of moving the blocks contributes to the appeal. In this case, three blocks isn’t enough—adults will want more.

Probably the most polished game now available is called Chroma Shuffle. The game is reminiscent of hits such as Tetris and Collapse. Users match up colored pieces on different blocks in order to clear screens and progress through puzzles. Game developer Josh Lee has deftly used the physical-manipulation aspect to enhance the puzzles—in many cases, judicious tilting at the right moment is needed to achieve the solution. Carelessly shuffling the blocks can also get the user “stuck.”

The  interaction between blocks is impressively smooth. They easily detect each other and their orientation, and stay well coordinated. Very rarely, a slight lag occurs after the user performs an action and before the block’s display reacts to it. The devices burn through battery power relatively quickly—after about two hours of continuous play, the blocks were running low. However, this isn’t much of a problem because they need to stay near a computer anyway, so there’s likely an outlet nearby to recharge them.

The blocks have their origins at MIT’s Media Lab, but the Media Lab blocks cost $200 each. Sifteo’s version is far cheaper: when they go on sale later this year, the blocks will cost $149 for a set of three. Additional cubes cost $45 each. The software allows the use of up to six at a time, and people can share cubes and play together.

7 comments. Share your thoughts »

Credit: Technology Review
Video by Brittany Sauser, edited by JR Rost

Tagged: Computing, hardware, games, sifteo

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me
×

A Place of Inspiration

Understand the technologies that are changing business and driving the new global economy.

September 23-25, 2014
Register »