Newest Version of Romotive’s Robot Teaches Kids to Program

July 29, 2013

4:30 pm

Imagine telling an eight-year old girl that she could program her robot to find her brother, take an embarrassing photo of him, and upload it to Facebook. Do you think she’d be interested in programming then?

“If you want to convince an eight-year-old that he or she should be interested in computer science, a robot is a really good place to start,” says Romotive CEO Keller Rinaudo. “Harassing your little brother – that’s about as compelling a use case as a little girl can possibly imagine.”

Romotive - screenshotWith Romotive’s latest update, that scenario just got a step closer to reality. Now, kids can program their Romos using a new visual programming interface. They just select a trigger, pick actions for Romo to take or emotions to express, and adjust the parameters (like speed or distance). For example, they might program Romo to tilt back and look scared when someone picks him up.

It’s pretty basic as far as programming goes, but it does help kids understand the idea of giving instructions to a computer and having the computer follow them.

In the next six months, Romotive plans to add other functions, like face detection, motion detection, and space mapping. If connected to Facebook, Romos could eventually be able to play your favorite song the moment you walk in the room, or say hello to one of your friends – “Hi Chad!” – whom they’ve never met before.

The funny part about all this is that the technology isn’t complex. Rinaudo recalls talking to a professor who said that space mapping is a solved problem, with no PhDs left to be written.

“There’s so much technology in robots right now that is considered basically solved at a research level, and yet you’ve never seen a robot doing any of these things,” says Rinaudo. “None of that technology has ever been relevant to normal people.”

Most of the technology, Rinaudo says, is stuck in university labs – used to prove a thesis, then forgotten as a prototype that probably doesn’t work anymore.

Kids are only the first audience for Romotive programming – and an enthusiastic one. While working on this update, the team collaborated with over 1,000 kids to figure out what works, what doesn’t, what’s boring, and what’s totally awesome. And every week, you’ll still find 8- to 12-year-olds in Romotive’s San Francisco office playing with robots.

The girls are as enthusiastic as the boys: they like befriending a robot with personality, and it sure beats programming on LEGO MINDSTORMS. And some brother shaming on Facebook wouldn’t hurt, either.

Romotive - kid

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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