These Robots Teach Kids to Program (Play-i)

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Play-i, a startup consisting of industry vets from Google, Frog Design and Apple, has launched their self-hosted pre-order / crowdfunding campaign for their educational robots that aim to teach programming concepts to very young kids (5+).  These robots aim to be fun and educational at the same time.  And easy: parents don’t need to do anything aside from set up a bluetooth connection to the robot and hand it to their kid.

Play-i is making two robots available today.  Bo ($149) is robot on wheels that lights up, makes sounds and senses his environment as he moves around and interacts.  Yana ($49) is just a ball that reacts to her environment and plays to a child’s sense of imagination without movement — though the video show Yana being tossed down a slide and lighting up as she bounces.  The robots are interesting as separate purchases but they’re designed to sense and interact with each other ($198).   They come with an iOS app (supporting iPhone 4S, iPhone5, iPhone5S, iPhone5C, iPad Air, iPad 3, IPad mini, iPod Touch 5th gen) which provides a visual programming language for controlling and interacting with the robots.

In a move that will make these robots appeal to the young-at-heart as well, they’re planning to release an API.  If think of Bo as a robot kit, it’s not a bad deal; a robot that moves around and contains sensors, lights, speakers and bluetooth makes a nice robot kit for $149 — but even if your ambitions don’t extend past teaching kids to program, it’s nice to know the API will allow you to hook Bo and Yana up to Scratch, Blockly and other environments that appeal to older kids.

Play-i has been developing the robots for about a year after raising a $1m seed round from Google Ventures, Madrona Venture Group and some angel investors, and plans to ship the robots to pre-order customers in summer of 2014.

This is the second campaign in as many months to target young kids with products that aim to teach programming fundamentals.  Robot Turtles enjoyed a stellar run on Kickstarter recently for it’s board game that teaches kids programming concepts through play.  Given the recent surge in interest in anything STEM-related, and high profile campaigns from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and others via Code.org and The Hour of Code to bring attention to the benefits of teaching programming at an early age, campaigns like this are bound to do well.  And unlike the 12+ market, there is really nothing targeting very young kids of 5+.

Check out Play-i today.

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