Seymour Papert taught us years ago the most effective way to teach computer programming to children was to make it fun, and MIT’s Logo programming language remains popular (and free). Since then, other languages designed to teach programming concepts have been developed, including Scratch, Game Maker, and Alice. (I wrote an article on educational programming languages for TechEdge that is online here.)
From a commercial standpoint, especially with languages like Logo, the urge to combine programming with real world robotics has been highly successful, most notably with the Lego Mindstorms line of products. Now, a new company has developed a toy spy robot that will encourage the creation and posting of programs by its fans.
The Spy Video TRAKR from Wild Planet Entertainment will blend online and offline fun for budding robotics enthusiasts. Offline, the target market of eight-year-old and older boys can guide the remote controlled vehicle into other rooms and use its wireless camera for surveillance. Taking a tip from Webkinz, which ties an online product with toys in the real world, the Spy Video TRAKR will offer strong inducements to play on their site. Here’s a quote from a recent news article:
Wild Planet says the Trakr goes a step further than other Web-tied toys. It sends children online to create application and then brings them back to the toy, instead of just leaving them playing related games online.
The marketing pitch for this seems brilliant. The toy will function as a spy robot right out of the box, but for the kid who wants more, plenty of customization is offered, whether it’s an app downloaded from the site or one he makes on his own. Here’s part of the press release:
Though the Spy Video TRAKR can be used without ever being hooked up to a computer, tech-minded kids will be quick to connect their toy and start the customization process. Beginners can access an online application modulator that will allow them to modify existing apps as they familiarize themselves with writing code. All the tools they need to write their own unique programs will be available online, for free.
The toy will be available in October, in time for Christmas, and should retail for about $120. I wish the best for Wild Planet, and I hope their new product is highly successful. Also, hopefully, it will encourage many new future programmers to pursue careers in the STEM fields.
Zimmerman, A. (February 10, 2010). I spy a market for kids. The Wall Street Journal, D1.