Learning to code may be almost as important now as learning to read. But most five-year-olds aren't interested in staring at lines of code. A new robot makes things more interesting: AntBo, which looks like an ant, is simple enough to program that kids can learn to code while they play with it.
"We believe in the philosophy of learning through play … Seeing an ant-shaped robot come to life is definitely more interesting than reading code on a computer screen," says Ricky Ye, CEO of DFRobot, the Shanghai-based DIY robot company that designed the robot.
Younger children can use visual programming tools like Scratch to make simple commands, like telling the robot to follow lines on the ground, react to a voice, or even simulate emotions. Once kids are old enough to code traditionally, they can also program the robot with Arduino IDE. Advanced users can 3-D print custom shells for the toy.
"We believe kids can benefit a lot from robotics, by identifying their own challenges, learning how stuff works, solving new problems, motivating themselves to complete a project, working together, inspiring others, and sharing with others," says Ye.
The robot is designed to feel as alive as possible. "Antbo is more like an organic creature," says Ye. "Our engineers have studied each kind of walking robot's gait from the point of insect bionics and designed a six-footed walking mechanism … He can respond to the surrounding environment and various stimulus."
With 30 neurons for different "feelings," the robot can learn simple movements and habits based on the preferences of the user. As a pet-like toy, it's designed to stay interesting enough for kids to want to play with it over time.
"We hope that Antbo can bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds and inspire a new generation of engineers," Ye says.
The robot is crowdfunding on Indiegogo with an early-bird price of $59. It's not the only robot aimed at developing coding skills in very young children. You can see another example of one we've covered here.