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KIDS' BUILDING BRICKS enhanced by Grind floatable inserts become BETTER TOYS and then onto BIGGER PUBLIC INSTALLATIONS

A soft insert that makes toy building bricks float and enables a take-back system, which upcycles the bricks to public floating structures

Photo of Karin Carter
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Toy building bricks are great for kids, no doubt.  Brands such as Legos and Duplo, Lego clones, and new peripheral products & services continue to be loved by kids worldwide.  Lego alone makes 19 billion bricks a year.  

But, as I presently look at my family room floor with at least 300 individual bricks strewn about calling to be picked up before someone steps or slips on one, these bricks aren't so great for me/mom.   And now, with hand-me-downs, my kids have way more than they can use.    What if there was a solution that made picking up bricks easy and that made getting rid of bricks feel good?

This innovation aims to serve both wants.    It is a simple insertable "floaty" made from Grind EVA foam that is shaped/molded to fit inside larger existing bricks (like Lego, Duplo, or MegaBlox) so that the bricks truly float and so that kids use them in the tub.  Once the child grows out of the bricks (or as they accumulate too many), the family stacks the floating bricks onto the large pre-postage-paid, interlocking, floating baseplate/chassis (based on the same materials and manufacturing method as the insertable floaty and free with the purchase of the floaties) and sends away!  The returned packages (these large interlocked and interlocking bricks) are then used as floating structural elements at tourist attractions and them parks. 

The floaty, which will be made and sold in several universal sizes and in packages of 10, 20, or more, is an inexpensive item to improve the child's and parent's brick experience, to facilitate the return of bricks after the child has grown, and to help corporations be more socially responsible.   The child enjoys fitting the chassis to the brick and the new buoyancy of bricks;  mom and dad enjoy scooping them up in one fell swoop with a net;  the whole family likes that their toy will turn into a fun public structure;  and corporations catering to kids have a positive social impact while reducing their environmental one.

Some of you may be saying that Legos float already.  True, for a little while they might.  As you may know, most toy building bricks are made of ABS which is a low-density plastic and, when mini air bubbles stick to the surface of the brick, they float on their own for a little while.  But not forever.  And heavy constructed pieces will sink because of their weight or because of the water that will seep through the partitions.  In researching floating plastic/foam/wood structures, I came across some inspiring designs that led to the idea of a better second life for bricks (better, at least, than just being melted down).   What if CanDock's floating walking bridge in Angor Wat or The Makoko Floating School had a love child with Legoland Water Park or Disney??  This lovechild might need these floating bricks and, thereby, the millions of ABS bricks with floaties would be transformed into something of higher social value for 10-20 years, before remelting all that embedded energy.

Which Nike Grind materials will your idea utilize?

  • EVA Foam Injection Scraps
  • EVA Foam Flashings
  • EVA Foam Sheets & Blocks
  • EVA Foam Components
  • Laminated EVA Foam

How specifically will these materials be incorporated into your solution?

After rough prototyping and with some past experience in industrial factories, the following manufacturing process is an informed guess at what it would take to produce this insert at scale. I'm sure further prototyping and talking to actual EVA or injection molding manufacturers will result in better (more efficient and lower-cost) techniques--I just haven't got there yet. But for now, here my best guess: 1. The Nike Grind EVA foam injection scraps, flashings, sheets, blocks, and components will be chopped down to 6mm or smaller, 2. These foam bits (at least 75% by volume) will be added to minimal EVA resin and agitated to disperse the different-density components evenly. 3. The mixture will then be heated minimally (to around 70˚C) such that the resin melts to a viscous flow and the full foam bits remain. 4. This slurry will then be molded to various universal insertable floater shapes. Or maybe compression molding will work and utilize a higher percentage (or even 100%) Grind EVA. I just don't know how compression molding and cross-linked EVA work yet. The priority is to maintain the inserts performance to float the blocks while making sure the insert does not compromise the performance of the interlocking function. Precision molding will be important--not as important as the hard Lego brick itself, but tolerances will need to be maintained. Color sorting of the different Nike Grind foam bits prior to this process is not necessary, as the insert will be used on the inside of the block and not seen in the kids ultimate creation, nor the floating walking bridge or jetty in the brick's second life. The nozzle head for the injection (if injection molded) would have to measure at least 6mm in diameter.

Please include a visual (can be either 2D or 3D) representation/prototype of your concept. (required)

This is a v1 "works-like" proto. The "looks-like" vision is a smooth molded piece that fits snugly (but not tightly) into bricks, for disassembly after its life as a toy and public space.

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Research & Early Testing
  • Prototyping

Describe your target market. Who will benefit from your product?

Curious kids and their frustrated parents. With a floating toy that encourages open constructive play in the bath, kids stay happy in this contained area. Brick pick-up for parents becomes a breeze. As kids grow out of the toys, the family is encouraged to send them away where the target market becomes tourist-attraction and theme-park developers wanting floating bridges, pontoons, jetties, or other modular floating structures.

How will you scale your idea? Please describe in detail your plan to scale your concept.

With a looks-like/works-like prototype, a take-back system map, costing, and some kids' & parents' testimonials in hand, the first approach to scale would be build strategic partnerships with existing toy building brick companies (Lego/Duplo, MegaConstrux/Mattel, Fisher Price). With such a partnership, the floaty product and the take-back program could be featured on their website, in stores, and in their branded theme parks and resorts (ie, Legoland Resorts). The pitch would also include LCA and C2C scoring of current bricks without a take-back program/second-life vs. bricks with floaties and a take-back/re-use program. If no traction is gained here, I would look to partnering with the "second life" market of these floating bricks, the developers of theme parks and resorts catering to kids (i.e., Disney, SeaWorld, city governments located near water). I assume one of many obstacles will be various legal issues (trademarks, safety, liability), which will require much help.

How is your idea innovative?

Independently, I don't think a Lego-peripheral design, a take-back scheme, a floating brick, nor the manufacturing process is a huge stretch from what is currently being brainstormed by forward-looking folks. But this exact mash-up of a simple inexpensive insert that fits a ubiquitous toy + mass manufacturing feasibility + its potential to utilize large quantities of Nike Grind + the scheme that gives bricks an interesting twist in their second life makes it something special.

What inspired this idea?

The material: about a year ago I found an unusual quantity of buoyant blue foam bits on a Mexican beach. I saved them because it's my passion to one day make cash from trash! So it was these bits that have had me thinking...and my pet peeve of constantly picking up legos as a mother.

Tell us about yourself and your team. What is your background and experience?

Back in '02, I completed my thesis in Sustainable Fashion for an MSE in Product Design. In '08, I co-founded a tiny company that upcycled industrial waste. It no longer operates, but I haven't stopped thinking about this trashy passion ever since!

In what city are you located?

Denver and Sayulita

In what country are you located?

USA and Mexico

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea will support the growth of your concept.

In its current nascent stage and as an individual submission, the idea is far from reality. But, I know from having worked on campus in Beaverton and studied with IDEO folks, there are massive amounts of design, engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and sales expertise, to which I hope to have some access in order to rapidly grow the idea and get it off the ground. And, of course, I would look to my fellow trashy innovators (competitors in this challenge) for ideas :)


Join the conversation:

Photo of shaolin

Hi, Karin.
Thank you for your sharing. I like your idea. In my perspective, bricks are very popular in the world. We can see how successful does Lego. I am the customer with Lego, even I am 25 years old. They also have the different product line for different age of customers. The idea you have can use it to educate the children in their early age. It is a good opportunity to use the new material too. Thanks again.

Photo of Karin Carter

Thanks Shaolin! Yes, I'm thinking this 'floaty' is good for the bigger bricks that are good for little kids. But, I agree, Legos are good for all ages!