Thursday, 5 September 2013

Espruino: A Microcontroller with Graphical Coding for Kids

Espruino is a new hardware controller that I think is going to be excellent for children who want to learn to program and make stuff happen in the real world.

Espruino is a Kickstarter project that has already achieved its goals but still has 21 days to go. We've pledged to get a couple of them as they look like a great next step for my nearly 7 year old who has been playing with Scratch but is really interested in robotics. He's got a younger brother who has already made his first robot!

We've written about lots of Arduino microcontroller kits and robots here on TechAgeKids, so what's different about Espruino?

One of the appealing things is the way you program it. It has a graphical interface which is very Scratch-like which is a great way to get started. And it also supports the very popular Javascript which is widely used on the web. Learning Javascript is an excellent idea for children.

The Javascript controls for Espruino are designed to be Arduino-like so kids will have some familiarity if they decide to learn Arduino programming later.
Another thing I like is the development environment. Changes made to programs take effect immediately, there's no time-consuming compilation or loading code onto the device manually. This gives kids instant feedback on their code. In my experience, this is the most important feature you can have to support learning through experimentation.

The Espruino has a variety of input and output pins that can be connected to a range of sensors and outputs.

You can get a basic board that can be used in your own projects. There's also a kit version that comes with LEDs, sensors and small servo motors and projects to build with them.

Another important factor is the price, you can get a basic Espruino board for around $30 + shipping (£19.)  Bluetooth support and project kits are also available for higher amounts.

Espruino looks like a great option for teenagers or for younger kids who have parental support to get things set up so they can do the fun still like making lights flash in different colors or getting a robot to chase their brother!

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