startup Digital Dream Labs extols hands-on learning -->
Their main product is like a computer and keyboard, yet different.
The startup is gearing up to produce "cloudBoard," which enables kids to control video games and find solutions to obstacles in the games on a tablet by rearranging real, hands-on puzzle blocks. Software titles under development include "Cork the Volcano" and "Monstrous Molecules."
"It takes a digital environment to a higher level of thinking," CEO
The cofounders -- Stewart,
CloudBoard, a keyboard with blocks and icons instead of keys, lets kids "discover the satisfaction of playing with their hands. It makes kids stop and think about what they're doing, and build a solution," said Kinney, 24, the company's software expert.
"It makes those physical relationships mean more than the game," said Sabo, 30, responsible for design.
The team got its spark at
"We were unique at Alphalab, because we had both hardware and software," Sabo said.
The first version, Dream Table Top, grew from brainstorming sessions at CMU.
"We just played with toys," said Stewart, 27. "It was all about creating interactive experiences and figuring out how kids could play with it."
Dream Table Top fulfilled an idea proposed by the
"The kids absolutely love it, and it's been a big success for us," said
Kids assemble a character and give it size, color or location, like a puzzle, but no specific goal. They create story lines, often with the help of parents.
"... When you apply all the skills together, it becomes a really powerful learning activity."
"It's more free-form exploration; kids change the way characters look and make up stories," Grabman said.
The company has generated
But the museum market is too small to support significant growth, which led the creators to rethink design and turn the Dream Table Top "into a commercial product that could be used at home," Stewart said. Kids at the museum tested ideas.
"We knew we were on the right track when the kids who played early in the day came back later," Stewart said. "We also asked parents, 'Would you buy it?' " That process yielded the product that Stewart and his partners intend to market this year.
Next month, they'll see whether
They'll work to attract the attention of manufacturers and investors at the American International Toy Fair 2014, sponsored by the
They are prepared to manufacture cloudBoard themselves in limited quantities for sale and have talked to toy retailers about carrying the product, Stewart said.
To fund its growth,
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