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Sony Adds Toio Cubes to Its Arsenal of Strange Robotic Toys

Clever little cubes automate robotic craft projects for kids

3 min read
Sony's Toio robot cubes, console, and controller rings.
Sony's Toio robot cube.
Photo: Toio

From Sony, the company that brought you the amazing Aibo and the slightly less amazing Rolly, comes a new consumer robotic toy: Toio, a “toy platform” consisting of little robotic cubes on wheels. It’s much cuter and way more fun looking than it sounds, and could be just clever enough to keep kids interested for more than 5 minutes (a common problem with a lot of robotic toys).

Here’s the trailer that should give you an overview of what this thing is:

We don’t have a lot of technical details on how the Toio cubes work, but they appear to have a pair of wheels at the bottom, some number of basic sensors, and bumps on top that are compatible with Legos. The robots are each approximately 32 mm × 32 mm × 19.2 mm (width × depth × height).

They communicate via Bluetooth to a video game-type console where you insert a cartridge, which tells the robots how to behave. There are also motion-sensing rings that act as controllers and let you make the robots drive and spin around.

Sony's Toio robot cubes, console, and controller rings.Each Toio robot cube has a small lithium-ion battery that lets it drive for about two hours. To recharge the robots, you place them on the console, which has a speaker, LCD display, cartridge slot, and ports to connect the controller rings.Photo: Toio

But where things really get interesting is when you modify the cubes with basic crafting materials like paper and tape:

Toio kits come with special mats, so we’re assuming that a lot of the neat tricks you see in these videos are made possible by optical pattern localization: This method allows robots to find their position by using a downward facing camera and looking at patterns underneath them. The robots then communicate with a centralized controller to simulate interactive behavior with one another.

Robotic toy startup Ankimay have been the first company to really make use of this technique, but it’s no longer unique to them. (Warehouse robotics company Kiva Systems, acquired by Amazon, also used cameras to look at bar-coded stickers on the ground for localization.) The downside is that the functionality of the Toios are probably more limited when they are off of the mats, though it seems that you can use special cards to help them navigate:

That all looks like fun, for sure, but one thing to note is that this is not a regular, “official” Sony product. The company is offering Toio through its crowdfunding platform, called First Flightdesigned to incubate product ideas from Sony employees. The Toio team has engineers and designers from Sony headquarters as well as the Sony Computer Science Laboratory, and company partners include Bandai, Lego, and Sony Music. The Toio website currently lists three different kits available for pre-order, each going for around 30,000 yen, or about US $275.

Another thing to note is that, as with video game consoles, you’ll probably have to buy new cartridges from Sony if you want new behaviors for your Toios, and it’s unclear if they will be able to run code created using any of the visual programming languages that are now popular among kids. If they turned out not to be programmable, the robots might not appeal to hobbyists and educators who value more open and “hackable” platforms.

Toio is certainly a clever little thing, and we’ll see how things shake out in December, when the kits should start shipping. 

[ Sony Toio ] via [ Fast Company ]

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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