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Podcast: David Merrill: Siftables, the toy blocks that think

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Podcast length: 7 minutes 9 Seconds

Podcast Description

MIT grad student David Merrill demos Siftables -- Biscuit-sized, computerized tiles you can stack and shuffle in your hands. A bit like the stick-man blocks sold in toy stores now, but much, much smaller and more sophisticated. These future-toys can do math, play music, and talk to their friends, too. Is this the next thing in hands-on learning?

Presenter Biographies

David Merrill

David Merrill is a grad student in the Fluid Interfaces Group at MIT's Media Lab. He and his fellow students in this group work on new technologies that give us more and better abilities to do things we want to do. His main interest now is the Siftables project, the subject of his TEDTalk, on which he works with Jeevan Kalanithi. In another field of inquiry, Merrill is looking at ways to access digital information in the wider world, when we are away from a traditional computer.

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Podcast viewing notes

David states that he drew on the idea of playing with building blocks as a kid, tactically feeling everything and learning from our interactions from the blocks, what if when we use a computer, its the same basic thing?

Instead of a mouse cursor serving as a single fingertip around the desktop, reach ion with both hands, physically grab the information stored there, and arrange it however we like.

Each siftable is the size of a poker chip. Each is also an integrated computer system with native data. Pick them up, move them around by hand, and slide them together. They detect when they are next to another siftable, and the two are capable of exchanging data.

David demonstrates one individual siftable that's displaying a video. An internal gyroscope and accelerometer means he can change the rate the video plays by tilting it in different directions.

Combining the awareness of nearby siftables, relative positions and this tilt mechanism, he has gone one stage further, by allowing users to 'pour' information from one siftable to another, by literally holding both and tilting one over another, simulating the pouring motion.

Siftables configured to display numbers and maths signs can be dynamically rearranged likewise, into scrabble-like strings, where they will automatically compute the sums they are placed into.

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David Merrill

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