Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Play-i bots teach tots how to program

Many of us grew up with the odd remote-controlled toy or video game, but how they worked was often totally opaque. Educational robotic toys like Lego Mindstorms give kids the chance to learn what makes these things tick. What separates Bo and Yana from the pack is their ease of programming. Kids simply launch the Play-i app on a tablet (iOS and Android will be supported) to begin experimenting with icons representing different functions. As kids play, they'll begin to connect the dots (and functions) to create more complex actions.
The bots are capable of simple motor movements, feature colorful lights in their "eyes" and "ears," and speakers for playing back sound effects and music. Sensors for noise (such as clapping), and distance (to stop before running into a wall), infrared (for robot-to-robot communication), as well as accelerometers and gyroscopes are all programmable. And if they outgrow Play-i's GUI, they can explore coding languages like Scratch and Blockly.
Bo is the heavy lifter of the pair, containing motors for moving around and a host of sensors and programmable functions. Yana, on the other hand, doesn't really move on its own, serving instead as a kind of companion that interacts when Bo is nearby. Both robots feature "multi-function attachment points," which will allow users to extend their capabilities with accessories. It's possible that different bases will be sold allowing Yana to move on its own.
Playi's new robot toys will teach kids the concepts of coding
Pricing is important with toys like this, especially when they rely on additional devices like tablet PCs. By keeping the bots' tech relatively simple, Play-i has set a fairly attractive price point of $169 for Bo and $59 for Yana (or $228 for both). By comparison, the ixi-play owl, a stationary robot toy, is priced at $299. However, the company says this introductory price will go up after the first round is produced, and specifics on accessories remain to be announced.

You can watch a promo for the robots here.
Play-i has also consciously emphasized the hands-on aspect of Bo and Yana. Kids don’t have to sit in front of a computer and face an application that teaches programming — they can play with the robots instead.
Yana Interface 2 730x547 With $1.4m in funding, Bo and Yana are robots on a mission to teach kids as young as five to code
Furthermore, given the widespread use of touchscreen devices among kids nowadays, parents are probably appreciative of the fact that these tablets can teach a skill instead of just being channels for playing games and watching videos. Bo and Yana connect wirelessly with mobile devices through Bluetooth 4.0, and all you have to do is start the app. Currently Play-i’s visual programming interface works with a series of Apple devices including the iPhone 5 and iPad Air, and the team is working to make it compatible with a larger range of Android devices, as currently those that support Bluetooth 4.0 are very limited.
Other than the US and Europe, Silicon Valley-based Play-i is also shipping to parts of Asia — namely India, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore.

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