Monday, May 28, 2012

How to Hot Wire the Dollhouse

[This post was originally published on the Parentonomics blog at Forbes on May 21, 2012]
Many people, including myself, have ruminated over the gender differences in toys. Well, as if inspired by that rumination, comes Roominate; a Kickstarter project that plays the gender game but with a different set of bells and whistles. Basically, the idea is to build
components for a doll house that include the wires: you can, literally, wire the doll house up for electronics. Here is a video explaining the product. The product comes with normal building components, decorations and then wires and electronics to put in lights, bells and other jazzy features. The catch is that the electrical bits have to be built just like the material bits. But you can experiment and design as you please.

The theory here is that early exposure to science and engineering can inspire more women to eventually go into those disciplines. That is a pretty old notion. What is interesting here is how Roominate’s engineers have decided to hit on the problem. If you look at the end product, once it is built, it is a pretty normal doll house. What is different is that the back is a mess of wires. Now I can’t vouch for how this will be to use but at least the video got my seven year old daughter excited. I backed this one for that reason just to see how the end product turns out.
Of course, there are many options available these days for getting kids interested in electronics in a gender neutral, as opposed to gender-specific way like Roominate. One that seems interesting is littleBits. As demonstrated in this TED talk by Ayah Bdeir, these are building blocks but with electronic interactivity. They look expensive but again the motive was to broaden the appeal of electrical engineering. Another is Ardunio which is open source and from the looks of it is one that I would have to leave to my electrical engineer wife to explore with the kids.
What is encouraging is that entrepreneurs are taking this challenge seriously. What is also interesting is that they are drawing on their experience rather than a focus group to develop these ideas. Perhaps that is why these are all ventures independent of major toy manufacturers.