Looking for this year's hot tech toy? Maybe just the hottest toy of the year period? Let me submit a worthy candidate: the Merge Holocube.
At first glance you might think it's just a foam building block with lots of squiggly lines drawn on it but if you look at the cube through an app you'll be able to see whatever it is you want to see.
The Merge Holocube uses augmented reality which is a mixture of virtual reality and the physical world. As you hold the cube in your hand you see your hands and the room but the cube itself is transformed into a virtual reality image.
"People like to have something that’s in their hands that they can physically manipulate it and they find that more satisfying and ore interesting and engaging than something that is a 100% digital experience," says Merge VR's Andrew Trickett.
Merge VR introduced the Holocube at CES 2017 last January but just recently released it to consumers. I first saw it at CES when Trickett showed me some of what you'll see when looking at the cube through the app
I saw a kaleidoscope, a pacman type game, and an animated city placed on the cube. I could see my hands holding the city as it came to life. It's really something out of this world and unlike any other VR or AR experience I've seen.
It really comes alive though when looking at the Holocube through a Merge VR headset. Once you strap on the soft foam-like headset (made to fit any size head comfortably) you can control triggers and options by tapping buttons on the headset. The headset comes in a variety of colors and since it's made out of a durable foam material it bounces if it's dropped or thrown on the floor.
Trickett says they've been approached by companies interested in incorporating the Holocube into job training and teachers are interested in using it in the classroom.
"Educators are looking to use this for things like viewing anatomy or viewing the periodic table of elements or visualizing physics," he said.
I watched as the cube transformed into a human skull, brain and heart all marked with scientific descriptions. Rather than seeing a picture or video of the heart's many intricate details I could rotate it in my hands and tap on a valve or ventricle to see what it does.
The Merge VR headset is $60 while the Holocube is $15.