Just as school language departments have had to adapt their offerings to keep up with the times – from French to Spanish and now Mandarin – the makers of tech toy Ozobot want to help children learn a language they think is vital for the 21st century. That language is a digital one.
Released in 2014 by Evollve, a California-based company, Ozobot is a programmable robot designed to get over the stigma of coding as a boring or difficult thing to learn. As the firm puts it, Ozobot “gamifies STEM and computer science learning”.
Smaller than a golf ball, the robot teaches children the basics of programming. Each $50 robot follows lines drawn in thick coloured felt-tip pens either on paper or sketched on a tablet screen. The length, layout and squiggly-ness of the lines is determined by children’s imagination. Children can build their own custom game, mapping out the lines for one or many robots.
The robot’s sensors detect and read the “code” – in this case, changes in the colour of pen used – with each colour associated to a different movement, such as move, spin or speed up. The idea is to get children comfortable with designing a series of commands (in this case, coloured lines) to control what the Ozobot does, and then see the robot put those commands into action.
The firm’s latest offering launched this year is the Ozobot Bit, which uses programming editor OzoBlockly to take the lesson one step further. By selecting different commands on screen (represented by different blocks of colour) and putting them in the order they wish in the programme, children can choose what to make the Ozobot do. The company explains Ozobot Bit as “a virtual version of brick building toys”. Evollve hopes that by making computer science fun with whizzy, mini-robots that light up and dance, they can make coding seem like child’s play.