File this under “holiday gifts for next year”. A startup called Play-i has opened a crowdfunding campaign to put into production a pair of educational robots that teach children the basics of coding from a young age.
The project comes from Vikas Gupta, Google’s former head of consumer payments, who sold his previous company Jambool to Google for $70 million in 2010. In addition to the $148,085 that Play-i has raised in the last 24 hours, the startup closed $1 million in seed funding from Google Ventures, Madrona Venture Group, and a number of other investors last spring.
The two robots Play-i is hoping to take to market are named Bo and Yana, both of whom are controlled using a companion app. By putting different action buttons in order, kids can build a visual set of commands: if they clap, for instance, Bo might move forward. Pivoting around his center, he can also play a xylophone, or offer up a flower from a test tube in his hand. It doesn’t look much like traditional coding, but the idea is to get kids thinking in terms of actionable storytelling.
Bo and Yana can also interact with each other. But note that while Bo can spin and wheel around, Yana has no wheels, being a stationary eyeball type.
There are other products out there that gamify coding basics for kids, like Move the Turtle and Cargo-Bot. So the idea of linking a set of actions to a game or otherwise relatable and enticing character isn’t anything new. Nor is Play-i the first to pioneer programming with toys, as products like the Bee-Bot are already on the market.
Yana and Bo are nonetheless very giftable, and quite charming, even from an adult’s perspective. The two blink their big, luminous eyes and trill, Tickle Me Elmo style, upon command. According to Gupta, the designs were meant to be appealing but not to look like pets.