The cutie pie robot, ‘Root’ will teach you and your kids to code
Researchers at the Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have created a small robot that can teach anyone from a five-year-old to an adult how to code. Known as Root, this cute little robot can be programmed for coders of all levels, including adults.
Raphael Cherney, a research associate at the institute, shared, “Right now, coding is taught at a computer keyboard. It’s an abstract process that doesn’t have a relationship to the real world. What Root does is bring coding to life in an extremely fun and approachable way. Kids with no experience in coding can be programming robots in a matter of minutes.”
Root looks like a smoke detector but is actually a sophisticated robot. It has a magnetic surface, wheels, and an impressive collection of sensors that allows it to navigate a classroom whiteboard. It also has a touch-sensitive bumper, which is handy in the early days. But Root isn’t actually programed to do anything. Its tasks and functionality centre on a child’s imagination.
The robot is capable of driving and drawing as well as playing music, but Root needs instructions to operate, a line of code. While testing out Root with kids for the first time, Zivthan Dubrovsky of Harvard’s Wyss Institute recalls,
“If you ask kids can you make a text based java script line follower? They go ‘no that’s hard, can’t do that’, but we can put level one in front of them and they can do it in minutes,” he said.
Using a tablet wirelessly connected to the robot, level one familiarizes kids to the principles of programing using an interface of simple commands and pictures. According to Dubrovsky, as they become more skillful, they jump to levels 2 and 3, at which point writing computer code becomes second nature.
He says getting kids interested in the abstract world of programming isn’t easy, but thinks Root can help with that.
“We are not trying to create a fun toy where you are just making a racing game. We are going to figure out how to make the racing game and that is going to be a lot of work, a lot of perhaps negative energy. But then there is so much positive energy at the end that it is worth the effort,” he added.
The device has the flexibility and adaptability to be as difficult or as simple as the coding and it’s that combination that should make it simpler for kids or anyone interested to learn coding to get addicted.
The aim of the team who created Root is really to bring the device to schools and to every classroom around the world right from Kindergarten to final year students so it’s cost effective in that sense. The team is hoping to partner up with education companies to develop curriculums based around Root.
“By adding a robot into the classroom you are actually adding a third agent into the classroom and you enable a new interesting way of teaching where the students can become the teachers, teaching the robot to do things,” Dubrovsky said.
While Root is not available to buy commercially yet, you can pre-book one for $199 now and the makers say it will be ready to ship “early next year.” Schools that are interested in the device, can contact the team at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University.