Education

Make things that do things: Atoms ‘building blocks’ bring toys to life

Atoms help kids bring their toys to life using science, not magic.

Seamless Toy Company, which is behind these intelligent “building blocks,” closed $2.6 million in seed funding (with rock group U2 frontman Bono as one of the investors) following a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Atoms are a system of plug-and-play sensors, motors, and logic blocks. Kids can either use a Atoms sets to build monsters, robots, or magic wands, or they can attach them to existing toys (like Legos and Barbies) and control them using an iOS device.

A revival of the Maker movement, the lower cost of hardware and robotics, and a national push for STEM education have combined to create a new wave of toys designed to turn kids into little tinkerers and hackers. Atoms’ goal is to help kids get excited about technology by encouraging them to “make things that do things.”

“The 18-room, four-car garage Italian villa you just built with your Legos would be a lot cooler if those garage doors would open, cars could drive out, and the third floor would shake when Henry the Ghost haunts it,” founder Michael Rosenblatt said.

Atoms consist of 13 modules — motor, light sensor, sound module, knob module, battery brick, splitter, IR “laser,” IR target, LED, Flip Flop, accelerometer, exploding brick, and iOS control brick. The blocks are color-coded by their functions, and you can arrange them in hundreds of combinations.

Others trying to teach science through play include iPlay, who makes robots designed to teach toddlers the basics of programming, and Ubooly, which teaches kids math. The founders of all three companies have said in various interviews that they were disappointed with the current toy options on the market and wanted to create educational products that would prepare kids for the digital world.

Kids are capable of learning computer programming, because the basics — problem-solving, logical thinking, breaking down a large problem into smaller parts and building it back up again, and sequencing — are things youngsters can pick up. And the experience of creating something and being able to control it builds self-confidence.

Atoms are designed for kids as young as six and its iOS app should be available later this month. The sets for making “Furby-sized monsters” range from $80 to $120. The Magic Sets range between $50 and $120. Individual Atoms start at $10 a pop.

Rosenblatt previously worked at Apple, and former Apple Software chief executive officer Avie Tevanian and former Apple chief financial officer Fred Anderson are investors (along with Bono). Elevation Partners contributed to this round, as well as Promus Ventures, Founder Collective, and Proof Ventures.

Seamless Toy Company is based in Boulder, Colo.