Technology

Start-up wants to teach kids to code with robot toy

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

For many kids these days, robots are already familiar figures thanks to videogames and movies. Now, a Bay Area start-up wants to use robots to help teach kids a skill that could change their lives.

Bo is a robot with the mind of a child, maybe someday, your child.

"Kids are sponges. You expose them to things, and they pick up things much faster than you would have ever imagined," says Vikas Gupta, CEO and Co-Founder of Mountain View-based Play-i.

He says the company's mission is not just to teach American children how to play with robots, but how to program them as well. Ultimately, allowing them to master the overall science of computer programming.

"I found research that showed kids at a very young age, as young as preschool, can actually grasp programming concepts," Gupta says.

After first designing the robots, the team then came up with behaviors that a child would be able to program and enjoy at the same time -- everything from racing around the room to making music. The key they say was coming up with a simplified version of computer code that younger children could learn, and then build on. The software interface can be run from smart phones and tablets. In this case, color coded dots are sequenced to program the robot to play the xylophone.

"So I'm going to go down and hit the green, come back up and hit the yellow, and hit it again," he explains, demonstrating the program.

Gupta says in test groups, children as young as 5 years old have been able to perform basic programming. As children progress, they can move on to more sophisticated coding, including popular programming languages like Java. The goal is to teach a new generation of programmers to compete in an increasingly technical world.

"Computer science education in the U.S. has fallen far behind the rest of the world," says Gupta. "There are less than one in ten schools that offer computer science, and that led me to what we're doing now, which is how can we make programming fun and exciting and accessible for every child."

It's a process that Gupta's team believes they can jump start, with the help of a freewheeling, xylophone playing robot.

Play-i is currently taking pre-orders for the robots, which it plans to start shipping this summer.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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children, mountain view, technology, carolyn johnson
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