Lego is amazing. But if you or your kids are avid about building, you will inevitably end up with a big pile of bricks, shed from different sets. Sometimes that pile looks like the pure nuggets of creativity. Other times, it’s just a maddening reminder that you will never, ever get your life organized.
The Brickit app, free on iOS, is a promising way to look at your bricks anew. While it was designed by a team of fans rather than The Lego Group, it can do something that no other Lego app has ever done: Scan that big pile of bricks, and it offers specific plans as to what you can build next.
That’s no small feat. Modern Lego is so much more complicated than its classic three-by-six bricks; the company produces thousands of different styles of pieces today. With Brickit, all you do is take a picture of your pile, and it uses object recognition to identify the specific brick types you have. With your collection cataloged, the app offers specific building plans—like vehicles and animals—that you can build with the pieces you have right in front of you.
To test the app, I knew just the place: the room of my 7-year-old. Right on his desk sits an omnipresent tub of loose Lego, a rainbow graveyard full of the limbs of Harry Potter minifigs and other studded detritus.
First, I tried to take a picture of the tub. But the app simply identified all the things it couldn’t understand: Lego rail track, some other specialized pieces, and a few non-Lego toys. (Brickit doesn’t claim to identify special Lego sets like Technic or anything else you might own). So I enlisted his help, and did that weird parent thing where you sometimes have to ask permission of your own child to dump much of the bin onto the floor. We weeded out the bad pieces and scanned again. The system counted 150 pieces this time, but the app gave no suggested builds.
At this point, my son’s initial elation at the very existence of this app waned, as he suggested there are all sorts of things he could build with this pile. But we trudged on, doubled the pile, and got 20 suggested plans. The app told us that we’re still missing a few pieces in order to build all of those 20 plans, but we try to build the truck the app suggested anyway.
The app lists each piece type in a clear illustration, just like classic Lego instructions. And when you tap the illustrated piece, the app brilliantly pulls back up your scanned photo and points out right where you can find them. It’s very difficult to pick out one tiny Lego among hundreds!
It’s a sharp bit of UX. Unfortunately, the app was prone to stalling and crashing, and we found a pretty large margin of error where, especially if one piece was partially obscured, Brickit labeled it incorrectly. Those errors meant our truck was a non-starter. However, these engineering quibbles are fixable for the Brickit team with more refinement of the platform, and it’s possible that a few issues were due to our specific camera and lighting setup. Don’t let them undercut your own willingness to try out the app.
As screens have taken over, Lego has foundered at bridging its classic physical play with digital gaming. Ultimately, Lego’s primary strategy has been to create mixed experiences that ask kids to build something and then spend their time looking at a screen to play with it. That’s always felt backwards to me. While the Brickit team didn’t respond to our request for interview, they clearly took the opposite approach that Lego has: Brickit leveraged the technology of smartphones only on the front end of the experience, to push you back into the world of building and playing in the real world.
TechCrunch has already suggested that Lego should buy Brickit. A more formal marriage between the company and app is fun to daydream about. However, what the app is best at might not be in Lego’s short term financial interest. Brickit reminds you to be happy with the bricks you already have, rather than be tempted to collect your next set.
Even though we didn’t end up building anything recommended by Brickit, my son asked me to leave the Lego pile where it was on his floor on my way out. He suddenly had his own plans to build something massive.