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Saturday, September 1, 2012


Playing with dataThe cofounders of Sifteo first imagined how great it would be to sort through a pile of digital data as if it were a pile of Legos while graduate students at the MIT Media Lab. Thirteen million dollars and several generations of prototypes later, today they announced the next generation of their Sifteo Cubes, an interactive gaming system of LEGO-like blocks—except with computer screens.

“We’re extremely proud of the original Sifteo Cubes product, and the next-generation Sifteo Cubes are the next step in Sifteo’s mission to make classic play interactive,” Dave Merrill, president and cofounder of the San Francisco-based company, said in a statement. “Creating a completely portable system has been a top priority since we started Sifteo, and today we’re incredibly excited to be achieving that goal and more.”

Merrill and his cofounder, Jeevan Kalanithi grew up playing with videogames, blocks, puzzles, and board games, and they’ve figured out a way to get child’s play all grown up. They both hold BS degrees in symbolic systems from Stanford University. After conceiving the idea at MIT, they were encouraged to take it to market following a talk Merrill gave on the "Toy Blocks That Think" at a 2009 TED conference. It was there that the cofounder described the blocks as “a new ecosystem for manipulating digital information."

Paul Doherty, a spokesperson for the company, described the cofounders to Upstart Business Journal as feeding off each other to bring their vision of creating “magical versions of everyday objects” to market—Kalanithi the more humorous of the two, and Merrill the more analytical.

The gaming blog Gamasutra criticized the original Sifteo Cubes, released commercially in September 2011, on several fronts, perhaps most importantly though for the cubes' dependence on a PC tether that limited where they could be used. Today's statement noted it was a problem that became part of the Sifteo team's “ultimate goal” to solve.

In addition to fixing the tethering issue, Sifteo’s new product now consists of a maximum of 12 cubes instead of the first iteration’s six, and the company has dropped the retail price of the system from $150 to $130, with individual cubes falling from $45 each to $30. Additional cubes unlock new levels, puzzles, and special characters, with each player able to maneuver multiple cubes in either collaborative or competitive modes.

Also announced today, the company, funded by True Ventures and the Foundry Group, has partnered with Nickelodeon for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles project, as well as with game designer Richard Garfield, creator of the popular card game Magic: The Gathering.

Michael del CastilloMichael del Castillo
Technology & Innovation Editor - Upstart Business Journal
Michael earned his BA from Mercer University, along the way excavating a Roman bathhouse with the American School of Archaeology. Plus, he provided security at Oxford University, where he also studied literature and philosophy. He earned his MS from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism while training for and running in the New York marathon.

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