KinderLab Robotics has launched a new robot building and programming platform called Kibo that's designed for youngsters from 4 years and up. After customizing and personalizing a two-wheeled base unit, the kids can tell the robot what they want it to do by grabbing some colorful wooden blocks, putting them in order according to a specific function and scanning their bar codes into the base in sequence. Pressing a button will then start the program running and the robot creation springs to life.

Kibo is based on more than 15 years of research in learning technologies and child development, and sprouted from a project at Tufts University called Kiwi directed by professor Marina Umaschi Bers.

Together with tech industry veteran Mitch Rosenberg, she founded KinderLab Robotics and the newly-launched company received National Science Foundation funding in January of this year to look into taking Kiwi from hand-built prototype into commercial availability. For the final push to production, the Kibo team has turned to crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.

"While there are robot kits available, they are designed by engineers and are made for children aged eight and upwards," Umaschi Bers explained. "From a developmental perspective, it’s important that children learn the basics behind programming and logic at an early age while engaging in open-ended play that encourages problem solving and experimentation. When you’re a five year-old, there’s not much you can build and control in your world, but with Kibo you can make a robot that looks and moves exactly the way you want it to."

The Kibo robot kit is designed for kids aged between four and seven. Its makers say that it not only appeals to children interested in technology and gadgetry, but also taps into arty types and those who enjoy making things using their hands. It allows young tinkerers to build a robot using supplied modular components, personalize it with art designs and then program it to do their bidding, without going anywhere near high end tech like computers, tablets or smartphones.

"It’s important that children grow up with the understanding that technology isn’t magic, but is something that they can learn to master," Rosenberg said.

A standard Kibo base has one motor for each of its two wheels, while a deluxe model gets a third motor on top that rotates a platform. All of the electronics of the battery-powered unit are housed in transparent plastic and are visible to the young robot builder. Each kit comes with colored wooden blocks sporting pictures, simple programming instructions and bar codes, which are put together in a sequence before being scanned into an optical reader to the front of Kibo's base to instruct the robot what actions to take, and in what order.

The mini-roboticist then presses a button and the Kibo follows the sequence of commands. "When it’s on, children can scan another beginning block and simply reprogram with a new program," the team told Gizmag. "To rerun, they press the single button again. It runs the most recently scanned program."

A Motion Kibo kit is being pitched to Kickstarter backers at US$219, and includes the robot body with two motor modules and two wheels, 12 wooden coding blocks and five cards to control the device's motion and sound. Other pledge levels include a deluxe kit with light, distance and sound sensors, 17 wooden blocks and 14 cards for $349, and an activity package for teaching robotics to small groups for $1,000.

If all goes according to plan, the first Kibo kits will be shipped out in November. Parents and teachers will also be given access to online and hard copy support materials, including design journals, worksheets and suggested games.

Team Kibo's pitch video is below.

Sources: KinderLab Robotics, Kickstarter

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    Paul Ridden

    While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag.

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    1 Comment

    • Bring back Meccano (in its original form, of course) and combine it with this idea, together with last week's LittleBits-Arduino item and you have a developmental path from young child right up to adult.

      Having done so, it will be difficult to stop children from adapting all kinds of household items into their toy box and even more difficult to stop those so inclined from becoming tomorrow's scientists and engineers instead of going off into some finance company where they will never be truly fulfilled - and thus genuinely happy - no matter how much they earn.

      I just hope that there are some educationalists out there who are not so steeped in the classics to be able to see the educational potential opening up before them in today's real world. (Where are the Maslows of yesteryear?)

      Mel Tisdale

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