Siftables A Domino-Size Computer Toy Like No Other

By James Anderson •  Updated: 03/09/09 •  3 min read

Siftables, which sounds like some crazy toddler show on Disney, are actually cookie-sized computers with motion sensing, neighbor awareness, graphical display, and wireless communication. They act in concert to form a single interface: users physically manipulate them – piling, grouping, sorting – to interact with digital information and media. They look like slightly thicker square dominos with lcd screens.

So what are Siftables?

Think about spreading a bunch of photographs out on a table and then having to sort them into piles. One could accomplish this rather quickly.

We as humans are very skilled with our hand and eye coordination. We use the same functions of our brain to manipulate multi-touch devices.

Siftables interact with us in a similar way and provide us access to an unlimited number of possibilities that range from mathematics, word games, live video and photo collages, and even writing your own open-ended stories allowing you to piece the story together.

The video below illustrates how you can place siftables together to solve mathematics. It also shows how you can produce your own music by having a siftable for notes, bass, treble, filter, and reverb – allowing you to finely tune your music in every possible way – all on-the-fly of course.

To better understand how siftables work, please watch the video below as it speaks much louder than words.

Technology Behind Siftables

Siftables has undergone three hardware iterations and multiple software iterations, and now includes a Python API for simplified application development.

* dual AVR microcontrollers
* OLED displays
* 3 axis accelerometer with onboard data processing
* infrared transceivers and custom data protocol
* 64Mbit external flash memory
* Bluetooth Radio/Wireless networking
* Python
* C/embedded firmware
* plastic soft mold fabrication

Siftables were created by computer scientists David Merril and Jeevan Kalanithi at the MIT Media Lab with the hope to bring new ways to manipulate data visual to better interact our brains with touch, sound, and visual effects. The group behind the new company have manufactured and distributed a few hundred siftables to an external community of designers and researching actively looking to build applications for them.

Availability and Pricing

Update: Merrill and Kalanithi decided to focus on developing Siftables into a retail product.

The transformation of Siftables into Sifteo cubes (the retail product sold by Sifteo, Inc.) required a complete re-implementation of code and hardware. While the underlying capabilities — the ability to sense tilting, shaking, rotation, and neighboring—of Siftables and Sifteo cubes are the same, the technology behind them is significantly different.

The company was acquired by 3D Robotics in July 2014, and Sifteo Inc website has been removed. The software to program the cubes was moved to GitHub, in December 2014.