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Brief Published: 31 Oct 2013

Teaching Code: Child-Friendly Robots

Bo and Yana by Play-I

US-based start-up Play-I’s new child-friendly robots are designed to help young children learn how to code. Earlier this week, the company launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund the production of its two robots – Yana (the storyteller) and Bo (the explorer).

Targeted at five to eight-year-olds, the robots teach coding concepts using narrative structures – such as teaching the robot to give a flower to a friend. "A lot of coding is about putting things in a sequence," Play-I co-founder Vikas Gupta told tech website The Verge. "Ask a four or five-year-old kid to write out a sequence, and they have trouble organising a long string of commands. But if you reframe that as a song with lyrics, or a story with a narrative, children that age can create and remember long, complex sequences."

Kids learn to code via Play-I’s Bluetooth-based remote control app, which teaches the basic theory of code (the ‘if this then that’ theory) using simple drag and drop icons. The bots include several sensors – including distance, sound, proximity and beacon sensors – enabling a wide range of possible actions.

Coding for kids is becoming a huge area of focus for game developers and education professionals, who are recognising the need to establish strong levels of digital literacy at an early age. This is opening up the market for sophisticated, powerful and visually arresting games that help students meet educational goals. In March, UK game developer Kuato Studios released Hakitzu Elite – an app that teaches children how to code by requiring them to use Javascript to control robot warriors in the strategy game.

The pressure will be on developers to create new toy and game formats for education that are as engaging as commercial rivals. For more on this trend, see The Classroom Revolution, Education 2.0 and Decoding Code.