Bo and Yana – robots that make programming fun and accessible for children
A start-up called Play-i consisting of a team of engineers, inventors and designers, has introduced delightful robots that fuse play with programming for kids of all ages. The robots work by utilizing Bluetooth to wirelessly connect to a touch-enabled mobile device like an iPad. They make computers science education accessible and fun for children ages five plus.
The robots connect wirelessly using Bluetooth 4.0. Children simply launch the Play-i application on a tablet to begin experimenting with icons representing different functions. Currently, visual interface for children works on modern iOS devices (iPhone 4S, iPhone5, iPhone5S, iPhone5C, iPad Air, iPad 3, iPad mini, and 5th gen iPod Touch). Don’t fear Android users, the engineers are already working on programming interface that will work on Android.
The company’s first two robots called Yana (the storyteller robot) and Bo (the “explorer”) work great independently. They can also sense each other using RoboSense and this ability allows them to be used together for more advanced gameplay and new programming challenges. Both Bo and Yana are designed to be programmed by children using a touch interface with music, animation, and stories.
They are designed to encourage children to explore and be inquisitive while also learning problem solving, logical thinking, and how to break down a huge problem into smaller parts and build it back up again. Older and more experienced kids can use Scratch, Blockly and other visual programming languages to develop complex programs for the robots. Furthermore, Play-i team is also developing an application programming interface that will let users program the robots in the programming language of their choice.
Bo is an explorer, playful and curious. He learns new skills through time and becomes a more versatile robot. This robot contains motors for moving around and various programmable functions. Bo can be programmed to do various things, from basic movement and object detection, to complex sequences of instructions. The Play-i team is also making attachments that would enable Bo to pull other items or carry items around.
Bo has the following programmable actuators: two motors for driving, two motors for head pan and tilt, an eye light-ring for emotions, two full-color ear lights, one headlight, one tail light, one speaker with customizable sounds, and four IR beacons to advertise its presence. He has the following sensors and inputs: four buttons, three distance sensors to detect obstacles in front and back, a sound sensor, two wheel encoders in the base, two head encoders for precise head positioning, an accelerometer, a gyroscope and two IR detectors for other robot’s beacons. In addition, Bo also has six attachment points where accessories can be attached.
Yana is clever, imaginative and full of surprises. She is capable of simple motor movements, but kids can program her to roar like a lion when tapped or sound like a helicopter or airplane when shaken or rotated.
Yana has the following programmable actuators: an eye light-ring for emotions, two full-color ear lights, one speaker with customizable sounds and four IR beacons to communicate to other robots. She has the following sensors and inputs: an accelerometer and a button. In addition, Yana has three multi-function attachment points to add accessories.
The robots have gone through several iterations on design, and are ready to go to production. Play-i team has launched a crowdfunding campaign to generate awareness and pre-orders for its two robots. During the campaign which lasts for 24 more days, the robots prices are $149 and $49 (for Bo and Yana respectively). The team aims to start selling their robots next summer at retail price of $199 and $69.