3D Printing the Rosetta Stone for Kids Toys: Nerd Dad Triumph
Carnegie Mellon Professor Golan Levin has built the Rosetta Stone for kids toys. His Free Universal Construction Kit is a design for parts that enable interoperability between Legos, Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs and several more popular toy brands. The catch? If you want these parts, you have to 3D print them yourself!
In what Forbes calls the “ultimate nerd dad triumph”, Levin and his former student Shawn Sims made sure these parts will fit:
Levin and Sims didn’t just make near replicas of the commercial toys, they used a measurement tool called an optical comparator to copy the toys’ dimensions to within 3 microns. And then they published those models on the Web. “Our lawyers were a bit concerned,” admits Levin, so much so that the pair initially planned to release the project anonymously.
Back in April, we highlighted the potential disruptive impact 3D printing could have on the toy industry.
With the price of toys so marked up, it’s within reason to think that kids will turn to generics or pirated designs to fill out their toy chest after parents tap out the budget at retail.
Look back at the music industry. The only way to buy music in the late 90s was to purchase the full album at retail. Then Napster and other P2P sharing software came along and allowed consumers to download individual mp3 songs, albeit pirated. When iTunes launched with individual song pricing and a more reliable service than the P2P networks, consumers flocked to the legal alternative. The retail music industry died but the digital music industry was born.
Perhaps in the next 5 years we’ll see the retail toy industry collapse and be replaced by a digital successor. The question is whether we will see a digital toy black market in the interim. In our view, that will be up to the toymakers and their willingness to disrupt their current model.
Has Levin truly liberated construction toys from working only with their own kind? Will this type of innovation improve or hurt sales and prices of popular toy brands?
See the full poster of toy compatibility at Slideshare.
The video below shows how the Free Universal Construction Kit works. Notice how the voiceover makes it feel like a proper 1980s advertisement.
Read the full story about Levin’s project at Forbes.