The latest learn-to-code kit passing around a digital begging bowl to raise crowdfunds to make its concept fly is called FlowPaw. This education-focused electronics board takes inspiration from the likes of Arduino and the Raspberry Pi microcomputer but offers simplified programming to control the hardware for a target user-base of (mostly) kids by combining hardware blocks with an existing graphical programming language (called FlowStone).
The FlowPaw hardware consists of a main board, shaped like a paw, that’s easily expandable via four areas on the board where additional Click Boards — aka Claws — can be snapped into place to add new capabilities. So, for instance, you could combine a proximity sensor board, a buzzer board and an LED display to create a proximity-based alarm that flashes a warning when someone tries to sneak into your bedroom.
FlowPaw is a hardware education project from existing U.K. company DSP Robotics, which makes and sells the FlowStone programming language that it’s bundling with the board. Creating dedicated learning hardware is evidently how it’s hoping to expand usage of its software, tapping into the interest in the electronics education space that has helped other learning hardware blow up in recent years. Hardware such as the Raspberry Pi microcomputer or, more recently, the Pi-based coding kit, Kano.
All three are U.K. based projects, and it’s likely no accident that the computing school curriculum in England has been overhauled this year to include learning programming. The market for educational computing hardware and software is poised for serious lift domestically and beyond. Hence plenty of U.K. startups pushing into this space, such as the aforementioned Kano and, more recently still, SAM which successfully Kickstarted a physical computing kit of wireless electronics blocks last month. Modular computing education hardware is definitely having a moment. The theory being that kids learn better by playing around with tangible stuff, not just tweaking pixels.
“From our experience in schools the pinnacle of physical computing is flashing an LED on and off,” says DSP Robotics CEO Carl Owen. “Our FlowPaw kit is different, it combines a very powerful microprocessor (STM32) that is pre-programmed to do wonderful things with our own mature graphical programming language FlowStone STEM.
“This hardware and software combination allows kids to program things that are far more engaging, like robot Arms, Rovers, read sensor, program displays, webcams, make music and sounds. In addition to all of this it’s expandable with a range of plugin ‘Claws’.”
FlowPaw plugs into a PC via USB, and can also be used in conjunction with the Raspberry Pi and Python, or other programmable devices, to build remote controlled robots, games controllers, control a robot arms, or remote control software via a voice recognition interface, to name a few of the possible project ideas detailed on FlowPaw’s Kickstarter project page. It’s not Mac compatible unless you’re using Parallels Desktop/Bootcamp or some other virtual machine software running Windows.
The FlowStone graphical programming language is comprised of drag and drop modular blocks that contain Ruby code. The system allows for tinkering with the text based code inside these modular blocks to expand the learning potential, once the user is comfortable enough to dig deeper. But they can also just drag and drop modules without having to do any text-based coding.
“We are not a new company but are still classed as a start-up as we very small, only three people, and haven’t had a big breakthrough yet,” says Owen, when asked why DSP Robotics has turned to Kickstarter to launch a new product. It’s also a result of tackling a new area (hardware), and needing money to get that off the ground.
“We realised that our software products, whilst fantastic, are still relatively unknown and we needed some hardware to really show what we can do. The old saying ‘Software is eating the world, hardware gives it teeth’,” he adds.
DSP Robotics is aiming to raise £19,500 on Kickstarter to fund bulk ordering of components so it can squeeze the per kit price. Kits start at £85 to early Kickstarter backers, and — if it hits its funding goal — it’s aiming to ship to backers this December. At the time of writing it’s just shy of £11,800 raised with another 15 days on its campaign clock.