Monday, 20 July 2015

Technology for Kids Crowdfunding Roundup - July 2015 Edition

Technology for children is thriving on crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. These projects are often a step ahead of what you can buy through mainstream retailers. If you're willing to take the chance of a crowdfunded project you can help your kids become early adopters of some very cool technology. This isn't like buying an off-the-shelf product though so make sure you understand what you're signing up for.

Themes for July 2015 are tech for girls, board games to teach coding, and educational robotics. There are some fun ideas for taking tech outside too.

BUDDY : Your Family's Companion Robot

Buddy is an interesting new family companion robot. The project has already reached its funding target with plenty of time left to go.

Buddy can move around the house to deliver messages, take photos and get to wherever a robot companion is needed.

Buddy sounds quite futuristic in some ways. The robot will perform home automation and security functions, be a personal helper and play games with children.

But when you look at how Buddy achieves this it all looks pretty plausible with today's technology and the right software.

Buddy has an 8" touchscreen tablet for a face and is basically a tablet on wheels with some extra sensors and the ability to add gadgets such as a projector arm.

One very interesting feature is that some of Buddy's software is going to be open source so that other developers can extend the platform. That's important with a device like this, the developers won't be able to add every feature that users want.

The developers says he has been influenced by the droids in Star Wars. It will be interesting to see if the droids in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens are as far ahead of current technology as R2D2 and C3PO were when they first appeared.

I wonder if my kids would tidy up their toys to make it easier for Buddy to move around?

If all goes according to plan, Buddy will ship in Summer 2016.

Jewelbots: Friendship Bracelets That Teach Girls To Code

Jewelbots are programmable bracelets designed to teach tween and teen girls to code by tapping in to their interests in jewellery and friendship.

A Jewelbot has four LEDs that can each be set to eight different colours. The Jewelbots can also vibrate to provide alerts.

Some simple functionality is available out of the box so that girls will be able to use the bracelets straight away. The bracelets communicate with each other via Bluetooth and can also be paired with a phone via Bluetooth.

But to really make the most of the bracelets girlswill need to learn to code. Jewelbots can be programmed using the open source Arduino platform. Arduino is very widely used and learning to develop for it is a useful transferable skill.

Jewelbots can be programmed from a PC via USB.

I'm often skeptical about girl-specific technology. But I do like Jewelbots.  When it comes to wearables it definitely makes sense to have something that girls will be happy to wear and using technology for communication is definitely something that will appeal to a lot of girls.

iBesties: Dolls for Future Tech and Business Leaders

iBesties are dolls for Future Tech and Business Leaders. The project aims to normalize women in technology through girl's play.

iBesties are dolls with accompanying books and online media that. The dolls provide positive role models for girls. The characters have modern skills such as coding, graphic design and tech business leadership.

The dolls are 11 inches tall and child-shaped rather than adult-shaped. The characters are middle-school aged and find themselves running their own successful website.

We know that women are under-represented in tech industry and there's not much sign of improvement.

I think that we need to target younger girls and get them interested in technology. It's too late by the time they are teenagers and have been exposed to a lot of stereotypical influences about the IT industry.

In my experience, young girls are just as interested in technology as young boys. Targeting the tween age group sounds like an excellent idea.

There are various options for backers including the dolls and the book that goes with them.

Naturebytes Wildlife Cam Kit - Digital Making for Wildlife

Naturebytes is a UK-based Kickstarter project to fund an outdoor Wildlife camera powered by a Raspberry Pi.

The Pi Cam can take HD photos and can also record video footage.

The software for Naturebytes will be open so you'll be able to write new scripts to control the camera.

Backers can choose to get a complete kit with the weatherproof case, Raspberry Pi Model A+ and Pi Cam, or they can choose to supply there own Pi and Camera and 3D print their own case from a supplied STL file. (Note that most home 3D printers won't be able to print a weatherproof case.)

Naturebytes is powered by a rechargeable LiPO battery and the charger is included in the kit so it can be charged via USB.

Naturebytes is intended to be used as an educational resource to help kids connect to nature. We love projects that combine nature and technology - two of our favourite topics.

There will be a community around Naturebytes with conservation surveys that owner can participate in. 

The Early Bird price for a complete Naturebytes kit is £95 which compares pretty well with wildlife cameras that are already on the market. The ability to build, customize and program the camera are bonuses as far as we are concerned so although it's not cheap it does seem like good value for money.  

Vortex: Robotic Toy Re-invented

Vortex is a sleek, modern-looking children's floor robot which can be used for playing games and helping children learn about robotics.

Vortex has sensors to understand its environment and detect other robots. It also has support for augmented reality. Vortex has lights and a speaker to support speech and other sounds.

Vortex comes with a set of four games to play: Bumping Fight; Virtual Golf, Driving, and Robot Soccer (some of which require two robots) but is extensible so that more games can be added in future. Vortex is also open so others can add new games and abilities.

This is interesting. Every year there are new robots for kids that are exciting that year, but replaced by new models the next year. Having a toy robot that can be upgraded could offer much better value for money.

Vortex also has its own colourful app that allows children to program it from a tablet paired via Bluetooth. The robot is based on Arduino and more advanced users will be able to take advantage of this. Support for the popular Scratch graphical programming language for children is also mentioned.

Vortex looks like a fantastic toy for introducing robotics to children in an appealing way. It looks very friendly and could appeal to a wider range of children that robots with their insides on display (there's definitely a place for those too!)

CodeBots - The Game for Little Programmers!

After the success of Robot Turtles on Kickstarter we're starting to see other board games that teach children the basics of coding.

CodeBots teaches children about operators and conditional logic which are important concepts in programming.

To play the game children need to read and interpret conditional statements written in pseudo-code which is similar to Java and other related programming languages.

I teach computing to children and I can definitely see the value in such a game. If the children just learn which way around the less than and greater than signs go then that would be a bonus! Repeatedly being exposed to reading conditional statements with a real purpose in mind should embed the concepts so that children can just get on with using them when they come to programming.

The game has a strong visual appeal which should attract interest from girls and boys.

CodeBots is available as a physical board game but it's also available as a printable PDF which is especially useful for international buyers and as a lower cost option.

There's also a matching CodeBots Workbook that teaches children the Java programming language.

coding Farmers: The Java Programming Board Game For Kids

Coding Farmers is another board game to teach children the basics of programming in the Java language. Java is a real programming language which is widely used in industry.

Coding Farmers is aimed at children from age 7 up.

The game starts with instructions written in English-based pseudo code, as children advance they start using cards that have instructions written in Java.

Board games are a fun way to teach kids about computing concepts while giving them some time away from computer screens.

Children will be able to learn about conditional logic and loops - important concepts in computer programming.

The element of competition in a board game is a good motivator to encourage kids to work hard.

The inventors of Coding Farmers claim that the game has been optimised to make sure that correctly interpreting the instructions improves children's chances of winning.

hubs = geodesic domes made simple

We're big fans of geodesic domes round here so we're really pleased to see the hubs Kickstarter project which aims to make it much easier for everyone to build geodesic domes.

Hubs offers connectors that can be used to join together wooden sticks at the correct angles to create a dome. The size of the dome is determined by the lengths of the connectors.

The Kickstarter projects offers an option to get a set of injection-moulded connectors to which sticks can be added. There's also a option that includes sticks.

There's also a mini-dome option with drinking straws (and a 3D printer model file option if you want to print your own mini hubs.)

This is a great idea. We recently made a geodesic dome from Strawbees and drinking straws with glow sticks. They're just such fun structures with clever engineering principles (thanks Buckminster Fuller.)

The hubs Kickstarter is based in the UK and offers international shipping.

Looks like just the thing for building the structure of the mini-astrodome we've been thinking of making.

Hedgehog - Educational Robotics Controller

Yes, it's another educational robot platform. Not that we mind.

Hedgehog looks really high quality and well-designed and offers fantastic educational potential for older kids, teens and adult beginners.

Hedgehog has the ability to control lots of hardware and attach lots of sensors. Hedgehog provides APIs for programming and also has its own app (for iOS and Android.)

You can attach a wide range of motors and sensors and you can build using metal parts and LEGO.

However, it is expensive compared to other options that are available. The Hedgehog Controller plus Robotics Starter Kit is 450 Euro (around £315 or almost $500.)

This probably isn't the first robotics education kit that you buy for home use or for a club or small school. But once you get in to educational robotics you quickly realize that you want more of everything. The ability to attach more motors and servors and more sensors becomes important. This is where Hedgehog fits.

It looks like a great kit for a school robotics program or club.

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