Toy & tech smart: Electronics education made fun and easy

Eden Estopace - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – A tech startup being supported by Philippine incubator and accelerator IdeaSpace Foundation has launched a crowdfunding drive on Indiegogo to raise $50,000 to automate the manufacturing process of an educational toy that is now being used by schools in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore.

The 40-day campaign, which started last Nov. 9 and ends on Dec. 19, also seeks to introduce the toy called IQube to a wider global market.

Joshua de Llana, CEO of Tactiles, the company behind the toy, said that while the company has successfully set its footprint in three very important educational markets in Asia-Pacific even if its first users were not local schools, it needs to expand its wings further. The main barrier to this is the painfully slow, manual process of producing the hardware kit. He said the team can only produce one kit in three days.

The basic or primary IQube kit consists of eight electronic component squares or uniform cubes that children can interconnect to form simple and complete circuitries. The color-coded cubes are either input cubes, output cubes, connector cubes or component cubes that perform different functions in an electronic circuit.

Kids can get instructions on how to create circuits for various purposes through a companion mobile app. It’s like putting Lego blocks together, except that they don’t just build anything but instead learn the fundamentals of electricity by completing tests and projects.

De Llana said that by exploring ways of interconnecting the cubes, children can learn, for example, how a fan works, how a switch controls lights, or how a game show buzzer produces sound, among others. 

“We aim to give them grounding and foundation for electronics at a very young age so that they can be ready to tackle these concepts as they move up in school and be prepared to enter a the world where electronics and technology play an increasingly important role,” he said.

The primary kit, the entry level pack that would allow children to learn the basics of electronics, costs $79 and offers over 30 projects for kids to complete. Two other kits are also available – the Junior Kit ($99), which has 14 cubes and over 50 projects to complete, and the Senior Kit ($129), which has 20 cubes and over 100 projects. 

Surprisingly, according to the Tactiles co-founder, it’s the senior kit that is more saleable, with 73 out of the 100 kits on offer online already taken or claimed as of last week. Tactiles has also already raised $14,385 and the project already has 101 backers. 

The company can deliver the orders, however, only by June 2016. By that time, the fully automated process of manufacturing the cubes would have been in place. But it is certainly worth the wait considering the journey that the company has gone through since the onset.

Tactiles was one of 10 tech startups selected by IdeaSpace in 2014 to receive at least P1 million in funding and support. Its proposed product – a hardware kit for basic electronics education – went into prototype in June this year.

“In one year, we managed to finish a product, we managed to raise another round of investment, we managed to ship to three different countries around the world,” La Llana told new tech startups during the IdeaSpace Demo Day 2015 held last October. 

For all the glamor of being a startup backed by a non-profit foundation supported by some of the country’s biggest companies, Tactiles’ short existence has been far from glamorous. “None of us was receiving any salary, we were still squatting at the IdeaSpace office and our bank account was down to our last thousand pesos. But there’s something we’ve got – we have customers that are happy about our product and we did manage to ship a finished product,” he said.

The team behind IQube is composed of two electrical engineers and one industrial designer, De Llana shares. And the vision behind the company is simple – to build something that will connect play to education. As their next step, he said they envision using the cubes to someday enable kids to learn programming skills.

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