Today, you can either build with real Lego bricks, or build in software with virtual Lego bricks. There’s still a firm line between the two, because there’s still a firm line between analog experiences and digital interfaces.
But now, Gravity–the same experimental studio behind this 3-D sketchpad–has retrofitted analog Lego bricks with a sort of digital backup. In a project the designers call Lego X, which appears to be unaffiliated with Lego the corporation, the team fit the chunkier Lego Duplo blocks with hardware like accelerometers (and, presumably, some other positioning and wireless radio gear, too). This upgrade allows software to track the position of each Lego in real time–as they tilt in your hand or stack on top of other blocks–so that your construction in real life is duplicated in software as you go.
Once you’re done building your Lego X project, Gravity offers the option to 3-D print a blobbish physical copy of any scale. I’m not sure that I’m totally sold on the utility here. (How many things that you build in Lego do you really want in a form other than Lego?)
But Lego X is superb as a tool that lets you automatically save your physically built designs as software schematics. You could imagine these Lego working well alongside the experimental interfaces we see from the Tangible Media Group at MIT. More and more, information is becoming something we can touch. So why not get down on the carpet and build pirate ships and castles out of it?