Earlier this year I wrote about a new robot that was designed to care for children. The machine, called NAO, is capable of reading the mood of the child, recognizing their family and even understanding your preferences for food, music, and so on.
NAO joins the growing ranks of caregiving robots that include MIT’s Huggable, which is a teddy bear robot that aims to provide support and comfort to children with chronic illnesses, all the while reporting on various vital signs to their doctors.
Suffice to say, interesting though these projects are, they are largely limited to providing a degree of care. A new device, developed by a team at Harvard however, aims to go a bit higher and provide coding education to the children in its care.
The machine, which has been called Root, aims to excite and engage young minds with the world of coding.
“Right now, coding is taught at a computer keyboard. It’s an abstract process that doesn’t have a relationship to the real world,” the team say. “What Root does is bring coding to life in an extremely fun and approachable way. Kids with no experience in coding can be programming robots in a matter of minutes.”
Root is something akin to a cross between a remote controlled toy and a modern video game. It’s programmed via a tablet based app, called Square, and comes with an array of light and color sensors, and a touch interface that allows it to interact and respond to the physical world.
In the Classroom
Root is capable of running along a magnetic, dry-erase whiteboard, thus providing students with an easy way to visually see code playing out in front of them.
The interface behind Root is capable of upgrading and adapting itself to provide a tailored experience as the child ages, with an eventual progression towards work in languages such as Java Script.
Root has already been thoroughly tested on children, and the next step is to find a partner that can help them get it into the classroom. The developers plan to work on building a curriculum around Root to help this transition.
“We’re in the digital world, but schools don’t teach coding. America needs computer programmers to be competitive—71 percent of new jobs in STEM are going to be centered around coding. If we can solve this problem, this will be a big step forward for our country."
You can see Root in action via the video below. It will be fascinating to monitor their progress over the coming months.