Meet Root, A Robot That Teaches Kids To Code

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Root the programmable robot (Photo Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

Mention the word "coding, " and the first image that comes to mind is a complicated algorithm that has no relationship to the real world. It is, therefore, no wonder that most kids steer away from learning this skill that is becoming increasingly important in today's world. Now, thanks to a small robot created by researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute, even kids as young as five, will be clamoring to program.

Root, the hexagonal robot uses a programming environment called Square that can be accessed using an iPad. It has been designed to teach coding to kids at various levels. For beginners or young children, Root is less about coding — which may not be intuitive for some — and more about problem-solving.

Kids can construct a "what “if" scenario by moving icons around on the tablet and observing the consequences of their action instantly. This simple "cause and effect" logic can be used to teach the robot to “drive” along a vertical magnetic dry-erase whiteboard and sketch with a dry erase marker. Root can also be instructed to move around the floor, draw patterns, and avoid obstacles.

Photo Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

As students get more comfortable with the concept, they can “stack” commands, meaning that Root can be told to draw a race track on a whiteboard, and then multiple Root robots can be instructed to race each other. Other fun options include programming Root to go faster when driving over the color green and coming to a standstill upon sensing the color red. That’s just the beginning of the possibilities – Root can also be taught to flee when it detects danger, which in this case is the beam from a flashlight, and even play "Angry Birds" on a whiteboard using real-world physics. Since multiple Roots can be utilized at the same time, the robot is the perfect classroom tool to introduce coding to young kids.

Raphael Cherney, a research associate at the Wyss Institute, believes that this novel approach to coding will ignite tremendous interest because unlike the traditional method, Root makes coding fun for even the youngest of students.

Photo Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University via www.techworm.net

Unfortunately, the robot, which has been successfully tested by kids in the laboratory, is not yet available for schools. Zivthan Dubrovsky, who leads the robotics platform at Wyss, says the team is looking for the right partners to help develop a curriculum, including a coding module, around this fun robot. The researchers estimate that Root will retail for about $200 USD, making it fairly affordable for anyone that wishes to learn how to code.

Resources: wired.com, theverge.com, news.harvard.edu

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