Wednesday, 4 November 2015

PHIRO Kids Robot with Lots of Ways to Program

PHIRO is a new robot for kids with a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. It's a traditional floor robot or floor turtle but with some modern tricks such as smart phone integration and programming using physical cards.

PHIRO comes from Robotix a company founded by two sisters from India who have been involved in educational technology initiatives including @IndianGirlsCode.

This robot comes in two main variants:

  • PHIRO Unplugged - for younger children. Programmable by the buttons on the device or by swiping physical "Swish Cards" with instructions on. 
  • PHIRO Pro - for older children. Also programmable from a PC or an Android device.

Both versions are USB-rechargeable. The robots come prebuilt but do have adaptors for adding on LEGO creations. LEGO can be attached on top of the robot or to the motors.

Programming with physical buttons is definitely an accessible approach for younger kids as we've found with BigTrak. The physical cards are an interesting idea which makes programming tangible for young children. Kids can also create their own Swish Cards and learn binary in the process which is a nice touch.

For older kids Scratch 2.0 can be used for programming which is fantastic. Snap4Arduino is another similiar option.

The inclusion of support for Android phones with Pocket Code is definitely an interesting option. Pocket Code is a graphical blocks-based language with a touch interface which gives access to phone sensors. My older son has used Pocket Code and found it really intuitive as he already knew Scratch. PHIRO Pro has a phone mount which means that its sensors and camera can be accessed on the move.

This video is a neat demo of what's possible with Pocket Code and LEGO extensions:

The robot has fairly limited built in sensors - 6 proximity sensors. It does make sense to make use of mobile phone sensors to extend the capability.

The outputs are the two motors, two RGB LEDs and a simple tone generator to play musical notes.

PHIRO is perhaps not as exciting to look at as some of the kids robots we've seen, but the ability to use it as a basis for LEGO building definitely helps with that.

PHIRO is a good mix of classic stuff that we know works well for teaching kids coding and robotics such as physical buttons, Scratch programming and LEGO compatibility, and the less common but definitely interesting physical "Swish Cards". It's also great to see support for Pocket Code and Android phones.

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