Teach Your Kids About Programming With Play-i's Adorable Robots

The adorable, funny-looking little robots built by Play-i have a lot going on beneath the surface. This tiny blue bots are completely programmable, designed by a team of former Google and Apple engineers as a teaching aid for children. Play-i's gadgets- which will retail for $149 and $49, respectively - exist in two flavors: the larger, fully-mobile Bo and the smaller, stationary Yana.

The former's clearly the more advanced of the two, and comes equipped with motorized wheels, a head with a full range of motion, full color ear lights, a headlight, tail light, speakers, and IR Beacons.It's also geared up with an accelerometer, sensors, and a gyroscope along with six attachment points for a wide array of peripherals. Yana, meanwhile, is largely stationary, with an eye-light ring, a speaker, its own set of IR beacons and three attachment points.

Play-i's gadgets exist in two flavors: the larger, fully-mobile Bo and the smaller, stationary Yana.Play-i's gadgets exist in two flavors: the larger, fully-mobile Bo and the smaller, stationary Yana.

The two devices ultimately have the same purpose: to teach kids how to program. 

This will be accomplished, says Play-i founder and CEO Vikas Gupta, by presenting the process in a way that's neither challenging nor intimidating (as learning programming often tends to be). Kids who play with Bo or Yana will gradually expand their horizons by programming new actions, behaviors, and responses by playing through a number of different 'Missions' with their smartphones or tablets. 

"When you open Bo," Gupta explained, "it won't know how to avoid walls. So when it encounters a wall, it doesn't know to stop or turn, so it just runs into the wall. But it knows when it does this. So it can be programmed so that when it runs into a wall it backs up and shakes its head. The next step for the child is to think 'we need to train Bo to be good at avoiding walls.'"

Of course, the kids have pretty near complete freedom in how they solve their problems. One budding programmer might have Bo simply back up and shake its head when it hits a wall, while the other might choose to have it run in circles. Both approaches are perfectly valid, and both approaches are an acceptable means of solving the problem. 

Both bots come with a wide range of peripheralsBoth bots come with a wide range of peripherals

According to Gupta, this system can actually teach kids as young as five years old about programming, though the younger players will naturally need a more intuitive interface. 

"The difference in the age groups is cognitive ability," noted Gupta. "For example, at age 5 we've found they're not very good at written or spoken language. They have weak motor skills. They can't write very well. But their cognitive ability to grasp programming concepts is actually quite advanced. So we've developed these interfaces thinking about what is developmentally appropriate for a child at this age."

That said, there are still a few kinks that need to be worked out with the programming; the company later intends to release an online sharing program through which users can upload their own code and teach others with it. I think I might pick one up for myself. You're never too old to learn a valuable set of skills, right? 

Also, I think their names are a reference to Doctor Who, which is downright awesome.