Software review: Brickit Lego modelling app
Image credit: Caramel Quin
I got 99 problems but a brick ain't one... because Brickit uses AI to scan your Lego and give you build ideas. A genius idea for blockheads.
Lego, and compatible building bricks, have caused controversy and consternation for years. Parents’ worst nightmare is stepping on them barefoot. Should you keep sets together or have tubs of different colours and/or sizes? Can you use ‘a Lego’ as a noun or is it ‘a Lego brick’? And if you’ve lost all the instructions, what should you build?
As we know from 'The Lego Movie', there are purists who insist on following instructions robotically and then there are freewheeling, creative types. The Brickit app offers a third way.
The free app is available on iOS or Android. There’s also a Pro premium option. At the time of writing, there was a free seven-day trial of Pro, after which it costs £3.58 a month or £42.99 a year.
Once the app’s installed, spread out your bricks flat. Remove large base blocks first. Then spread out your Lego well, so every brick is visible.
Brickit uses the phone camera and two neural networks. One detects the individual bricks in the photo. The other attempts to recognise each one. These are both offline on the phone itself, for speed. Finally, it gives you a bunch of suggested builds, complete with instructions, pulled from the Brickit servers. Click on a brick in the instructions and the app shows you exactly where in your pile to find it.
Brickit’s makers say its recognition model is constantly improving. The free version recognises the most popular 100 bricks, while Pro recognises 1,600. The database of 2,500+ potential creations is the same for both versions.
Work to improve brick detection is ongoing and Brickit also recently launched an important user feedback loop: see an incorrectly identified brick and you can report it, so the app continually improves.
There’s also a social aspect – you can upload photos of your own creations. The app’s makers decompile favourites and create build instructions for them, adding user-generated designs to the growing database of potential builds.
The tech is constantly evolving. Brickit’s makers say they’ve tried videos, AR and more, but the current system is the best compromise between accuracy and speed. That’s important because the app’s aimed at under-sevens. Read: short attention spans.
I tried the app several times, with my large Lego collection and middling attention span. I enjoyed the brick-recognition process. It feels exciting and high-tech as it scans the brick pile. I liked the look of the 256 suggested creations (sorted by category). There is also a ‘finder’ button, so you can find specific bricks in your pile from a menu. But building was more frustrating. For example, I picked a cute Angel to build, which didn’t seem too taxing.
The app duly told me where in my big pile to find the right bricks... in fact, it showed me enough to build a whole chorus of angels. If I needed two of a certain brick, it showed me where to find all 12 in my collection. It was right most of the time, but of course it only sees bricks from one side, so sometimes it gets it wrong. It also can’t specify brick colour right now. (So my Angel turned out all sorts of weird – you can see it at the top of this page.)
The makers say this is part of the fun: the app successfully directs you to around 75 per cent of what you need and you have to improvise the other 25 per cent. But if you’re under seven (or an adult used to instructions that work 100 per cent) this could be frustrating.
Or it could be the third way, neither a goodie or a baddie in 'The Lego Movie' terms. Children especially want to use their imaginations and creativity but might not know where to begin. The app gives them a bunch of ideas to get them started. And help finding pieces in the pile.
I enjoyed it but felt no need for the Pro version. The free app is good enough and the subscription model costs too much. I’d happily pay £5 to recognise more bricks, to help fund its creation and ongoing development and to stave off any advertising. But I can’t imagine paying £40+ a year for the privilege. I don’t need another subscription in my life.
Ideally Lego will buy the app, keep it free, keep improving the brick recognition and give you the option of paid access to a huge library of instructions. You could even pick a more complex build and order the extra bricks you need. It would be the perfect way to bring the humble building block into the 21st century. Until then, get the free Brickit app and enjoy its simple genius. Just watch your step.
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