The idea of encapsulating electronic components in bricks has been re-invented. Look out for Cubelets for modular robotics. We have a video to introduce them.
If you had a techie childhood then you might well remember using electronics kits that had each component in a plastic cube and you could build circuits by connecting cubes together.
If you were more mechanically oriented then you might even remember Capsela which did the same thing for motors and gear boxes. Capsela even got as far as a robotics kit, but sadly it is no more.
The whole idea of encapsulating functions into bricks is such a good idea that it is bound to be reinvented time-and-time again. In this case we have Cubelets for modular robotics. The idea is that you have standard sensors, logic and actuators in plastic blocks that connect together via magnets. These can be used to quickly build robotic systems.
Currently they are in pre-production and you can only pre-order for a scheduled April delivery. But for around $160 you get six Cubelets consisting of one drive, one flashlight, one brightness sensor, one distance sensor and a battery and passive connector block.
To be honest this starter kits seems a little limited. If you want a better kit of parts then there will be a $500 20-block kit which includes two motors and a range of more interesting sensors and processing blocks, such as inverse, minimum, maximum and so on.
You can also buy individual blocks at about $20 to $30 a block. The blocks aren't programmable, but you can create custom behavior by the way you assemble them.
You can see how it all works and how it might be exciting in this promo video. Be warned it is a little over the top, but keep watching because it does eventually get to showing you some of the simple things you can build with just a few cubes:
While I'm not entirely convinced that this construction system is open ended enough to engage children for a long time, it might be enough to get them started on more complex engineering systems.
Obviously this is a project that is only going to be successful if it gets taken up by education - so make sure your local school knows about it.
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