There's a fear that touchscreen devices like smartphones and tablets will one day turn kids into lifeless, imagination-less zombies. But technology isn't all bad. And to bridge the gap between the toys of yesteryear and tomorrow, researchers at the National Taiwan University created a building block toy that can interact with apps on a touchscreen tablet.

Called GaussBricks because the pieces use magnets to connect to each other, an accompanying tablet app is able to detect and recreate their position, pivot points, and movement on-screen, thanks to a special sensor-laden case.

Those sensors track the invisible fields around the magnets used in the toys and relay the info to the app, which can rebuild a 2D version of whatever's been assembled on the screen. So not only does it provide a more engaging way to interact with on-screen characters or machines, it gets kids doing more than just randomly tapping on a touchscreen.

The accompanying software adds value to the magnets as well, since it can give a vehicle sound effects and other enhancements, or allow a kid to build their own custom controller for a given game. It forces kids to use their imaginations, while letting them continue to play with the touchscreen device they refuse to put down. [GaussBricks via NewScientist]