• Team Meerkat students demonstrate their toys, called Fearkats, which emit "laser" beams when activated using their tail-triggers.

    Photo: Tony Pulsone

    Full Screen
  • Team Meerkat students demonstrate their toys, called Fearkats, which emit "laser" beams when activated using their tail-triggers.

    Photo: Tony Pulsone

    Full Screen
  • Team Koala introduced its toy, a variation of a ring-toss game with lighted towers whose colors change when rings are tossed around them.

    Photo: Tony Pulsone

    Full Screen
  • A student from Team Hedgehog sets up the Light Tracers toy, in which remote-controlled toy cars leave a trail of light on the tabletop.

    Photo: Tony Pulsone

    Full Screen
  • Students from Team Panda present their skit introducing a scary toy owl with glowing eyes called "Who-Who," which they described as "traumatizing toy technology."

    Photo: Tony Pulsone

    Full Screen
  • Team Hippo introduces a haunted house game in which "ghosts" (actually ping pong balls) shoot out from the roof of the house, where they must be caught by a special arm-mounted catcher.

    Photo: Tony Pulsone

    Full Screen
  • A student from Team Lobster demonstrates "The Cube," a variation on the Rubik's Cube in which metal balls inside the cubes must be guided through a set of internal mazes.

    Photo: Tony Pulsone

    Full Screen

Students with toys: Not just playing around

In mechanical engineering department’s toy-design class, teams design creative board games, plush toys and puzzles.


Their theme might have been “in the dark,” but the MIT students who participated in this year’s 2.00b (Toy Design), a first-year elective in mechanical engineering, were anything but: Their creations ran the gamut from innovative board games to puzzles to stuffed animals to a comforter that transformed into a pup tent.

The toy prototypes were unveiled and demonstrated on campus Tuesday night before a large audience — including many children — armed with clipboards to score the varied offerings. Adding to the fun, each of the 16 teams of five students presented their invention as part of a five-minute skit — some featuring sound effects, costumes and choreography — followed by questions from the audience. The instructors and mentors who introduced each team did so with skits of their own.

Taking a cue from the “dark” theme, several toys featured monsters, wizards or ghosts. Two games centered on haunted houses. One of these resembled a board game, with monster-themed pieces moving around the house as directed by a thrown die, accruing specific items from treasure chests; the other was an action game in which players used a claw-like device to catch pingpong-ball “ghosts” ejected from the roof. Another team produced a game of wizardry, with a book of spells and “wands” equipped with motion sensors that could disable lights on an opponent’s medallion.

Others developed nefarious stuffed animals with flashing eyes and spooky sounds, or capable of firing beams of light with a flick of their tails.

Lights and action

Many of the inventions, in fact, made use of lights: In one variation on the party game Twister, the circles on the floor mat lit up and changed colors electronically. A ring-toss game featured towers that lit up in different colors depending on whose ring circled the tower last. Another team created a floor covering that would illuminate in response to footsteps, glowing more brightly with firmer steps.

One elaborate toy consisted of a game board coated with phosphorescent paint and two brightly lit, remote control vehicles that left glowing trails as they moved. Successfully crossing an opponent’s trail would extinguish lights on the crossing player’s vehicle.

Mechanical engineering graduate students Geoff Tsai and Lindy Liggett taught the class — which aims to teach basic design, building and testing processes — under the supervision of mechanical engineering professor David Wallace. “The goal is for students to get an experience they get jazzed up about,” Wallace says, and learn about “technology and tools they haven’t worked with before.”

Contests and startups

While the scoring by audience members had no effect on students’ grades, students took the projects very seriously. After prior semesters of 2.00b, “some have won toy design contests,” Wallace says, “and some have started their own companies.”

Some of this year’s toys made use of sound or motion: a “drum” that lit up and played a variety of sounds in response to pressure on its drumhead, or motion sensors attached to shoes to produce music in response to dance steps.

Another team created an electronic version of the old paper-and-pencil game in which two people alternately draw line segments, earning points for each box they complete. But in this version, the goal was to use pieces of wire to create circuits including a battery and a light, which illuminated when the circuit was complete.

An acrylic cube modeled on the Rubik’s cube was multiple puzzles in one. The cubes had to be “solved” like the 1980s original, but with an extra complication: The transparent cubes also contained metal balls that had to be manipulated through a series of holes and mazes from their starting position to a goal in another part of the cube.

At a reception following the presentations, audience members examined and played with the various toys, and enjoyed appropriate refreshments: milk and cookies.


Topics: Contests and academic competitions, Design, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Mechanical design, Mechanical engineering, Special events and guest speakers, Student life, Students, Play

Back to the top