Google Ventures Backs Robot Maker Geared Toward Kid Programmers
October 28, 2013

Google Ventures Backs Robot Maker Geared Toward Kid Programmers

[ Watch the Video: New Robots Geared Towards Teaching Children ]

Enid Burns for - Your Universe Online

Parents, meet Bo and Yana, two robots that take commands from an iPad and are designed to be programmed by children. San Francisco-based startup Play-i, the creator of the pair, said its goal is to get children interested and to build their skills in robotics and programming.

The two robots are quite distinct. Bo ($149) is an explorer on three-wheels. He can be programmed to traverse a slalom-type obstacle course and play music on a xylophone. Yana ($49) is fashioned as a storyteller. The spherical robot can be rolled across surfaces or slopes, and can light up and make sounds.

Play-i believes programming such playful robots will get children interested in programming and build a skill set toward that end. The robots are compatible with apps created by MIT and Google, including Scratch and Blocky. Both use a drag-and-drop interface common in programming. Whether children use Scratch, Blocky or the basic Play-i programming, it will spur a new form of playtime for children that is engaging and skill building.

The team of seven that formed Play-i did so on the vision of co-founder Vikas Gupta, who wants his two-year-old daughter to have a chance for a decent education in a technology-run world, USA Today reports. However, even Gupta's daughter has some time before she starts programming robots. Bo and Yana are targeted to be used by five-year-old children, though younger children can likely play with the robots and their pre-programmed functions.

Google Ventures led a $1 million round of seed funding with a group of investors for this project. But Play-i is also using crowdfunding, which the company is running from its own website. The company is approaching the half-way mark to its $250,000 goal with 30 days remaining. Funding comes with product, which the company plans to ship in summer 2014, shooting for June. Those who contribute can get one or both robots -- individually, the pair can be had for $198 -- or both as part of a developer's pack for $499.

"It's a tangible way for kids to get programming at a much younger age," said Google Ventures Partner Andy Wheeler, in the USA Today article. "Hopefully, within a few years they are expanding into retail and expanding the software and hardware components … to allow the toy to grow with the child."

Expansion plans for follow-up products are in the pipeline. Some of the first of those expansion plans may come in the form of accessories such as a xylophone, an arm that can carry objects and other tools the robots can use via programming. In a video demonstrating Bo and Yana, Bo uses the attached arm with a vial-like vase to carry a flower to a recipient.

Play-i will initially sell its robots directly, though it has goals to be picked up by retail. The company is also working with tech-oriented programs such as the after school program Techbridge for girls based in Oakland, CA. The after school program has received a few of Play-i's robots and has reported some success with the new equipment.

"They are playful in a way that kids would connect with and see this as more than looking at a screen. It would be fun for kids," Linda Kekelis, executive director at Techbridge, told USA Today.