Ask people from any generation about their childhood, and chances are they’ve had some experience with LEGO. The colorful, interlocking plastic bricks have been a playtime staple and educational tool for children across the world for several decades now.
But at a time when youngsters can catch virtual Pokémon on real streets using a smartphone, it was inevitable that LEGO would get a digital upgrade. Enter Brixo. The five-person startup based in Tel Aviv is connecting metal-coated LEGO bricks to the Internet of Things so that students can engage with physics, coding, and the material sciences while they play.
“Our goal is to get Brixo in the hands of as many kids as possible,” co-founder and quantum physicist Boaz Almog tells Free Enterprise. Along with Tel Aviv University physics colleague and co-founder Amir Saraf, Boaz began developing the idea for Brixo in 2015, after he saw his son grow frustrated while playing with the wired mess of a circuit board and revert to a more familiar toy: LEGOs. “I was drawn to the idea of building circuits you can actually visualize and see,” he said.
Brixo blocks are child-proof, non-toxic, and chrome-coated so they can conduct electricity. When connected to one another, they create wireless circuit systems that can perform simple tasks, such as powering a light bulb, or complex ones— using wireless connectivity to run, say, a remote control car with the help of a smartphone.
The blocks come in kits. A larger block safely houses a 9-volt battery, while connector blocks contain either motors and LED lights or sound, light, and proximity sensors so Brixo creations can respond to their environments. Children need no prior experience to use the electronic bricks successfully – the learning comes with the building.
After funneling some of his personal finances into the project, Almog and Saraf turned to Kickstarter and Indigogo to fund their venture. The crowd was only too eager to give them a boost. Just two weeks into its Kickstarter campaign, Brixo raised $422,000, eight times more than its original goal of $50,000. The Indigogo campaign, which ended this past May, went further, raising some $1.1 million.
Today, Brixo has U.S. offices in San Francisco and Delaware. Given the healthy amount of runway cash it has to play with, the company has recently begun thinking more broadly about its future in education technology.
“I see Brixo as having two parallel futures,” says Almog, who has left the world of academia to pursue the project. “The first is bringing the product to the wider public and teaching kids about electricity and physics in a non-compulsory way. The second is through the traditional education system, where Brixo can be a template for learning about building sophisticated electronics.”
Earlier this year, Brixo partnered with Young Engineers, an award-winning organization that educates young children about STEM subjects through various interactive programs. The founder of Young Engineers, entrepreneur Amir Asor, is heading Brixo’s dive into education as the company’s CEO. As part of an initiative set to launch in 2017, the company is also developing educational programs in electrical engineering that are expected to reach 4 million elementary school students in 27 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, over the next five years.
“I was frustrated that so many amazing phenomena I studied had zero applicability in the natural world,” said Almog. “I saw that kids were hungry to learn about new sciences, so I took matters into my own hands.”