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tunnels photo 11



"The molding of the cube is straight forward and you may try soft tooling (aluminum) that will lower the original cost.  For a clear material polycarbonate would be best since it has high impact strength.  Also, instead of molding a complete cube you can mold sides and then weld them together via one of several methods of plastics welding.  Ultrasnic, laser, vibration, induction welding are common.  A second plastic is cellulose acetate butyrate (CAB).  It is old as the hills but still made by Eastman.  It is clear and tough.  You would need to compound in a flavor like chocolate or vanilla flavor since it smells like an old goat when you melt process it.  Nypro Inc. of Clinton, MA molded an early childhood toy in a clear polyhedron with geometric shapes that tumbled inside.  It was a commercial success about 30 years ago. The welding would be more labor intensive but would save on the mold cost.  You would need two molds since a cube face has either one or two holes.  The plastics can be either clear or opaque.

The tube assembly can be made at least four ways: One is by blow molding in a special process where the hot parison is robot manipulated and placed in a mold and the parison is vacuumedguided to fill the cavity.  Some German companies specialize in this Structural Blow molding and we have an old thesis from the 90s that describes who did it.  I would have to look it up.  The individual tubes would have to be welded/bonded together after being blow molded. 

 A second way is a special injection molding process called fusible core processing.  Here a low melting alloy  (melts below 250 F) forms the core and the melt is injected around it.  After the part is cooled, the part and core are immersed in hot oil and the molten core is recovered and recast for reuse.  This is an expensive process used by the automotive industry for molding air intake manifolds for car engines.  We have a short video on it.

 A third way is to use rotational molding.  A plastic powder is poured into a closed aluminum mold and the mold is placed in an oven and the mold is rotated on two axis simultaneously.  The powder fuses onto the inside of the mold wall.  The process takes about 20 minutes or longer.  The mold is removed and the parts are cooled outside the oven.  Multiple molds can be run at one time and for high production the rotomolding machine is divided into three or more stations for loading, heating, cooling, unloading.  Common resins are high density polyethylene, nylons, ABS.  Resins need high molecular weight and good heat stability to withstand long thermal cycle.  The formed part would be closed at the ends and one would have to cut off the ends to make the finished tube.

 Another method is called vacuum casting using a polyurethane thermoset resin.  This is a low pressure process in which components A & B are mixed and then chemically react to crossling and form a solid thermoset plastic.  The core to form the hollow tube would have to bemade out of a soluable solid such as plaster, etc and would be destroyed on removal.  This is a slow, labor intensive process but would give you relatively few low cost parts to test the market.  The parts would be as good looking as the parts made by the other processes.

Another process is called RIM (reaction injection molding).  It too uses a two component urethane and the process is relatively low pressure which makes for low tooling costs.  A variation of it is that as the reaction takes place one can also cause a foaming to take place.  The part is formed with a foam core and a solid skin.  Changing the chemistry changes the properties of the part (stiffness, hardness etc.).

You can also injection mold your tube as two halves and then solvent bond, adhesively bond, laser weld the two halves together.  Labor is expensive in the US."


                                  Nick R. Schott, Dir. Ed. & Tng. PIAProfessor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts



It's a router, a “flying junction” (an over-and-under junction of tunnels which weave past each other) housed within a cubical exoskeleton; with multiple axes of rotation and alternative, manipulator-controlled ball trajectories which allow exit in all orientations.

These tunnels are as closely packed as possible (they attempt to “kiss” each other and the faces of the cube) without overlapping and / or kinking and are configured to allow a ball to enter and exit in any of twenty-four perpendicular orientations, with the constraints of gravity and / or specific exits. In other words:

Q.  “Given [four sets of] two points [tunnel openings in a hollow cube] A and B in a vertical [inclined] plane, what is the curve [four curves, i.e., four tunnels, closely packed and intertwined in harmony] traced out by a point [ball] acted on only by gravity, which starts at A and reaches B in the shortest [longest] time?”    

                                           (Bernoulli's Brachistochrone problem [with a twist], calculus of variations.)

                                                      note Paul J.Nahin, When Least is Best (2004)

A.  S3

Ownership Information

U.S. Patent # 6,568,679 B1, May 27, 2003


Michael S. Sommer:  Systems Design

Ph.D. in Systems Thinking:  Strategic Planning / Intelligence

Wharton / University of Pennsylvania 





Without good working Air Ball capability, it is not an S3

If the tunnels are not smooth-bore but corrugated, the  ball will be progressively slowed as it goes down the tunnel.  This means that a much heavier ball will be necessary for optimal passage.  

The original prototype tunnels shown above are flex tunnels with steel helical armature which hold their asymmetric curvature as opposed to vacuum cleaner type hose which do not hold their asymmetric curvature.  Why is this important?  

Museums, etc., need a lighter ball for the children.  Corrugated tunnels need a heavier ball.  And the heavier balls necessary for corrugated tunnels are effectively ball bearings -- not something you want to put in the hands of small children (worry about "chokepoint" too).

The weight of the balls affects the trajectory of the Air Ball one of the more popular Sfeatures.  

In other words, a smooth-bore tunnel has little problem with ball weight.  However, there are difficult ball-weight issues when the tunnel is corrugated. 

                                     "Build It And They Will Come."

                                  STEM Innovation in Educational Technology

                                               Cognitive Tool /  Classic Toy           

From world class mathematician to child, from infant to the infirm: cognitive tool.

S3 straddles / creates many market opportunities; where to begin?

The Bible for revolutionary entrepreneurial marketing -- Geoffrey A. Moore, Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers, 1991, revised 1999.)

                                                  Invent The Future 

                  Like The Telephone / Computer / Airplane

Alexander Grahm Bell / Guglielmo Marconi / Thomas Edison had the same problem:  To build it first -- no one would believe its uses / benefits otherwise.  It paid off.


 "This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." -- Western Union internal memo, 1876.

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." -- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

"But it good for?" -- Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.

 "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." -- Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.

"Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value." -- Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre.

                                  Proof Of Concept

S3's primary market is block corners across the world -- all else evolves from that --  cognitive issues in particular. 

Unlike traditional products, with the need for elaborate development-to-commercialization steps, the traditional child's block is generally understood to have passed the test of consumer acceptance -- since before the time of Christ …  

The child's block is a necessity in his / her developmental toolkit.

 Few homes with children are without blocks. 

 All the parent has to do is upgrade -- not be sold on a new concept.

 S3 is simply saying:  

"Here is a block that is smarter.  And you can do even more things with it.  

Time to UPGRADE your child's blocks." 


Marketing Strategy

Prime The Pump.  ("Crossing the Chasm  -- invent the future / systems thinking.)

"... transcend the outmoded marketing theories that have led to more failures than successes in the challenging technology marketplace."  amazon

Hello, Bill Gates (free early Microsoft Application).  

"Word was also the first application with such features as the ability to display bold text. It was first released in the spring of 1983, and free demonstration copies of the application were bundled with PC Magazine …"  

How many Pre-K schools would turn down free upgrades?  How many Researchers?

“Piggyback" free Swith existing Computer Learning Packages; 


Low-Tech Cognitive Tool / Classic Toy / Playground Equipment; Visuospatial / Medical Research / therapeutic instrument (Alzheimer's / Autism - ASD), etc.


S3 In Every Home; Preschool; Elementary School

The market speaks: (REVIEWS)

"I'd like to see the S3 in every preschool and elementary school classroom, and in the home of every family with young children.”                

                                                   Laura E. Berk, Ph.D., Child Development, 8th Edition


Sale of a manipulative device (S3),

Targeted at a dynamic needs and clienteles,

Emphasizing wide ranging combinations of product(s) and consumer value(s).


Business Model

Licensing / Partnership


Computer Learning questionable up to middle school: "mouse learning" gap;

Simultaneously Cognitive Tool and Classic Toy.

Untapped markets -- because there is nothing like the S3.

Extensive Smarketing / sales / research development.

Marketing & Sales

Traditional / E-Commerce

Fulfill existing requests of: 

Industry trade magazines, toy "experts", etc., for the story opportunity when S becomes available;  

Wholesalers, retailers, P-K schools, teachers, eminent scientists / educators, technical writers (REVIEWS), etc., to purchase / support S3 when available.

Marketing History

All relevant major / minor toy companies studied S3  in-house, S3  workshop and / or on web.  No sale: need for economies of scale, expense of production incompatible with primary target market manufacturers -- S3 seen as niche market  (Mattel / Milton Bradley said  "it's a great toy, but we don't make money in a niche market").


Forecasted Growth of the Primary Target Market 

"Preschool education [U.S.] is increasingly seen as a middle- income essential. In 2005, two-thirds of 4-year-olds and more than 40 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in a preschool education program. This represents a substantial increase over earlier decades, particularly at age 4."

                                              "Who Goes to Preschool and Why Does it Matter?"

                                                             Barnett and Yarosz:  NIEER, 2007         


Manufacturing:  Plastics / Engineering Studies Summary

Extensive manufacturing / tooling studies determined that molding of the cube is straightforward and expensive; tube assembly can best be made at least four different ways: 

a)  Blow Molding; 

b)  A special injection molding process called Fusible Core Processing; 

c)  Rotational Molding; 

 d)  Vacuum Casting using a polyurethane thermoset resin.

A less satisfactory approach is to mold tubes as two halves and then solvent bond, adhesively bond, laser weld the two halves together.  U.S. labor is expensive.

S3 fabrication is straightforward and expensive; profit comes with economies of volume.

Quick S3 success will require large manufacturing capability.


           S3:  STEM Innovation in Educational Technology

                            "Steve Jobs:  The Next Insanely Great Thing"

"I used to think that technology could help education.  I've probably spearheaded giving away more computer equipment to schools than anybody else on the planet.  But I've had to come to the inevitable conclusion that the problem is not one that technology can hope to solve.  What's wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology.  No amount of technology will make a dent."

                                Steve Jobs (as quoted by Gary Wolf, The Wired Interview, 1996) 


Steve Jobs was right: high-tech, computer learning isn't enough.  

Computer learning, "mouse learning", is necessary but not sufficient (a motor / mental rotation deficit).  Slow-tech demands simultaneous motor / mental rotation (RESEARCH).   

Sis a powerful cognitive tool in its own right and natural component of a low-tech / high-tech learning package (piggybacked) offering exponentially greater ROI, return on learning investment -- for the consumer (REVIEWS) as well as the producer;

Sis a customer "door opener", first step into Knowledge / Learning business' product line (as loss leader?), into until now unavailable / unconsidered rich markets.  

Piggyback Package.



As Low-tech Cognitive Tool

S3 provides a critical entry for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) efforts to recognize and develop abstract / spatial reasoning, key to intelligence, for all students -- not only the gifted; and  

S3  offers the benefits of simultaneous mental / motor experience (unlike 2D computer graphics ), essential in the very early years; as well as across the age-spectrum as a therapeutic tool (Alzheimer's / Autism - ASD) (RESEARCH).

And it's fun.

As Classic Toy

SIMPLE BLOCK — Time To Upgrade

PROGRAMABLE LOGIC BLOCKS ("binary" -- Combinatorial Gate Array)







                                   Lest we forget -- Archimedes' tombstone.


"Topology is therefore more than a branch of geometry, or geography, or medicine. It deals with art, language, and perception. It is a dialectical space in which ontology and topography meet."

                                                                                      Ben Stol Tzfus, "Robbe-Grillet's Dialectical Topology" (1982)

© Michael S. Sommer, Ph.D. 2015