There are probably few people who have not come across the Rubik’s Cube. I not only remember “when all this was fields”, but also the arrival of this fantastic and iconic puzzle toy in the 80s. The multi coloured plastic brain teaser has never really gone away, and it may seem odd to be discussing it in a piece about digital technology and IoT but as my colleagues at 451 Research know, especially in our weekly IoT team video conference meetings, there is always an interesting gizmo to share. The latest incarnation of puzzle cube is fully instrumented and called the GoCube.

Crowdsourcing the future

My GoCube arrived recently, part of the first production run, I had seen it on Kickstarter and just had to back it with my own cash. I find it intriguing to be able to help people build interesting things without the need to pitch and get knocked around by large investors, corporate entities or venture funding.

I self-published my books Reconfigure and Cont3xt because I really didn’t want the drain of pitching for deals that I have experienced, both for corporate projects and in start-up land. Putting an idea out there and asking people to get involved is still hard work and does not always yield the full result but Kickstarter and sites like it have let me put my money where my mouth is on some great tech, and also some wonderful board games too.

It was probably the reboot of the game Elite that got me into this a few years back. Often the projects take ages and it’s easy to forget or miss a shipment notification, so it makes getting unexpected deliveries quite exciting.

What does this GoCube do?

GoCube is a rendition of a Rubik’s cube but it is instrumented inside with directional and status sensors that enable it to talk, over Bluetooth to a smartphone. This means the app knows which piece is where at any time on the cube. Clearly some people are going to be tutting at this and asking why a good old-fashioned thing from our childhood should be ruined by making it digital.

That of course is a similar conversation that is often had in an industrial IoT context, were old-fashioned would be replaced by ‘legacy equipment’ and childhood with the words ‘core business’. All understandable emotions, but ones that should be challenged.

Its cheating isn’t it?

Yes, it can be considered cheating. A puzzle cube that knows what state it is in can quickly instruct the person using it how it can be put back into the finished states, with all sides the correct block of colour. It can, whilst giving the user instructions, also tell if they have actually followed them and warn accordingly.

The app can say “turn the top layer clockwise”, but if you do it anticlockwise it can tell you about the mistake. In the case of GoCube instructions are given as both letters: U for upper layer clockwise, U’ for anti-clockwise, and also an animation of the cube too.

When I was a lad, if you couldn’t solve the cube, but wanted to start from a solved version you had to twist the pieces off, breaking the cube up and then click them back together again. Not an ideal way to treat them. Alternatively, books were available with some of the patterns and processes to solve them, but if you went wrong the book had no idea.

What we now have with GoCube is a device that can digitally provide instruction and feedback. I go back to the IIoT analogy, it is not cheating for an engineer to be able to be given the correct instructions and order or actions in which to repair a machine, the more efficiently they get that, the sooner the process is up and running.

Is that it then?

It is not only the ability to help solve the physical cube that is interesting. It is that this sort of instrumentation opens up the opportunity to teach or improve a skill. It was certainly a badge of honour at school in the 80s to show you could solve a Rubik’s cube, I had it pretty sorted for the first two layers but it was hit and miss for the last layer.

Yes, perseverance and practice are essential in all things, in Choi Kwang Do, the martial art we practice as a family here in Basingstoke, if people say they can’t do something we will often help with the word “yet” appended to the sentence. I was around 13 in 1980 and the Rubik’s cube I couldn’t be bothered to figure out, I couldn’t do it… yet. I had computers to learn to program!

Now with this instrumented kickstarted gadget I am able to learn by doing, with feedback and some interesting technical lessons on the app how to solve the cube. There are some basic rules and manoeuvres to apply. The app can even give me the instructions to get the cube to a particular scrambled state so I can then practice the specific set of moves.

This direct interaction is not addling my brain or taking away the enjoyment or challenge, but increasing the potential for what this originally ground-breaking puzzle can do.

If you check the web and social media you will soon find the world record times for solving a cube, amazingly under 4 seconds and constantly falling. Now of course something like a GoCube can tell exactly when it is complete, not rely on hitting a stopwatch so I expect times will drop further.

Being a connected device, it also makes the GoCube communal, solving times can be shared on leader boards via the app. Another facet of the cube knowing its own state means it can also determine the complexity of the shuffle, providing indication of difficulty levels too –  clearly if there is only 1 move to solve a cube that would be a rather faster time than 20 moves!

Anything else?     

The GoCube app comes with some extra games to build on the instrumentation, with a few more down as ‘coming soon’. A synthesizer option lets the rotation of different facets of the cube equate to notes played on the phone and just like the 80s Casio keyboard range of sound effects too, so you can make the GoCube trigger cow moos and klaxons.

I think the funniest crossover though is that the team have built in a game of Simon. The large disk of 4 primary colour flashing lights is another 80s childhood iconic toy so it’s amusing to be playing a variant of that but with the cube movements driving it.

Conclusion

IoT or just providing a constant feedback loop are extremely beneficial. Yes, there are some crazy and very odd devices in the consumer space, but the I think this device shows the potential to improve processes and experiences, if done right. Also, and this is very important, it’s just blooming good fun!