With just a few taps on a tablet screen, children as young as 5 are programming a pair of robots called Bo and Yana using a simple GUI. Looking a bit like the cute one-eyed monsters from a Pixar film, the bots are the flagship products of a start-up called Play-i, founded by a team with experience at Amazon and Apple. In just two days, the company has nearly reached its crowdfunding goal of US$250,000, with plans to send out the first batch in the northern summer of 2014.
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.
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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.
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 $150 for Bo and $49 for Yana (or $189 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 below.