Playi's new robot toys will teach kids the concepts of coding

There are efforts to promote coding to kids, but they're typically aimed at an older demographic -- few young children are ready to sit at a keyboard and start writing. Play-i hopes to foster that interest at an earlier age with its upcoming programmable robots. Both the three-wheeled Bo (right) and its stationary cousin Yana (left) teach coding concepts through the context of stories, which are easier to grasp for kids. Owners can tell Bo to give a flower to a friend, for example, or get Yana to make helicopter sounds when it's shaken. Play-i's Bluetooth-based remote control app (currently iOS-only) simplifies arm, eye, gesture and wheel commands, reducing them to icon-based sequences; effectively, kids learn about if-then code without mastering a programming language.

The company is running a crowdfunding campaign to help with its planned summer 2014 launch. Interested parents can pledge $49 for Yana, and $149 for Bo; prices should climb to a respective $69 and $199 when the robots reach the market. Tinkerers can also spend $499 to get a developer combo that includes both machines as well as early access to an API. If you're interested in giving your kids a head start in the tech world -- or just want particularly clever toys for yourself -- you'll want to check out Play-i at the source link.

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Play-i Bo and Yana robots

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PLAY-I LAUNCHES CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN TO PRODUCE BO & YANA, ROBOTS THAT MAKE LEARNING TO PROGRAM FUN

Veterans From Google, Frog Design and Apple Build and Design Amazing Technology Platform for Children

Mountain View, CA-October 28, 2013 – Play-i (www.play-i.com), a company passionate about making programming fun and easy to learn for the next generation, today announced the launch of its crowdfunding campaign (www.play-i.com) to produce robots that children can play with and program. Play-i's mission is to give young children an engaging platform where they can experience the joy and magic of programming at a young age.

According to Code.org, by 2020 there will be 1.4 million more computer science jobs than there will be people to fill those jobs. And yet less than 2.4% of graduates study computer science during college. Play-i aims to change that by getting children interested in programming at a young age. Play-i robots are fun and engaging, and make learning to program an enjoyable experience. Play-i robots are affordable for every family -- and just as much fun for parents as for their children.

Play-i is creating a visual programming environment for its robots on touch devices for kids, that meets children at their level of cognitive ability and motor skills, starting as early as age five. Unlike other programming languages where children are first taught the syntax, Play-i focuses on learning through exploration, play and discovery.

"As a father, I know that a child's world is about play. Play-i robots make abstract concepts of programming concrete -- unlocking a whole new world of imagination, creativity and play for children," said Vikas Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Play-i. "Every design choice we've made for our robots was to deliver play and programming as a priority, while also keeping our price down."

Play-i robots are expressive, interactive and completely programmable. The programming interface for children requires no previous ability to read or write. The robots are playful -- they can dance, play songs and even collect the toys on the floor -- and can be programmed by children wirelessly using a touch device, like an iPad.

"What makes Play-i's robots so unique and special is that they really connect with younger kids on an emotional level and make programming such a seamless and playful experience," said Mike Dooley, the original Product Manager for LEGO Mindstorms and now a VP of Product and Business Development at iRobot and adviser for Play-i. "They are leveraging a legacy of ideas from research on computing, robotics and children's cognitive development, but have created something new and so accessible that even kids in the 1st or 2nd grade can easily play with programming, and in the process, construct rich models for understanding the world."

"Programming skills can help young learners succeed throughout life, from strengthening their vocabulary to improving problem solving abilities," said Steve Cooper, Associate Professor of Computer Science Education at Stanford University, past Chairman of CSTA and adviser for Play-i. "I'm really excited that Play-i is developing innovative products that make programming accessible to young children."

"Play-i gets how a developmentally appropriate introduction to programming can pave the way towards a lifelong interest and aptitude in computer science," said Vibha Sazawal, Lecturer and Visiting Research Scientist at the University of Maryland and adviser for Play-i.

Play-i robots will be available in the summer of 2014 and are priced at $149 and $49 during the campaign, reduced from the $199 and $69 retail price. Crowdfunding and detailed features of Bo and Yana are located here: www.play-i.com

You can follow Play-i at on Twitter @playi and on FB at facebook.com/hackingplay.

Campaign Pledges:

Backers of the Play-i crowdfunding campaign starting Oct 28 will be able to reserve the robots at an introductory price reduced from the retail price of the robots. Every backer also gets an exclusive skin designed only for the crowdfunding backers.

The pledge levels for backers are:

$49 -- the reward is Yana, the storyteller robot

$149 -- the reward is Bo, the explorer

$189 -- the reward is Bo + Yana package

$499 -- reward is the Bo + Yana package, and early access to our API. Limited to 1000 people.

Robot Features:

Bo

- Wireless (Bluetooth 4.0) for easy connection to touch devices for programming

- Two motors for driving that provide differential steering for body motion

- Two motors for head pan and tilt

- One programmable eye light-ring to add emotions

- Two programmable full-color ear lights

- One programmable full-color headlight

- One speaker with customizable sounds

- Four programmable buttons

- Four Infrared beacons to advertise location to other robots

- Twelve different sensors to interact with surroundings and other robots

-Three distance sensors to detect obstacles and objects in front and back

-Sound sensor to detect sound gestures like a clap

-Two wheel encoders enable precise body motion control

-Two head encoders enable precise head positioning

-Accelerometer for gesture control and positioning

-Gyroscope to track orientation

-Two Infrared detectors to detect other robots

- Six multi-function attachment points to add accessories

- Rechargeable battery and Micro-B USB connector for charging

Yana

- Wireless (Bluetooth 4.0) for easy connection to touch devices

for programming

- One programmable eye light-ring with full-color overlay to add emotions

- Two programmable full-color ear lights

- One programmable button

- One speaker with customizable sounds

- Four Infrared beacons to advertise location to other robots

- Accelerometer for gesture detection

- Three multi-function attachment points to add accessories and bases

- Rechargeable battery and Micro-B USB connector for charging