Root is still in the development phase. Root uses various lights and sensors to engage kids in the world of coding.  (via Harvard)


Our kids are going to be smaaaaaart! In our rapid growing digital age, it's never been more important to learn the basics of computers. Being able to type 60 words per minute and knowing how to set up an Excel sheet just doesn't cut it anymore. Now, it's all about programming and coding. Granted, these are pretty complex fields that takes time, patience, and skill to get down. To prepare kids for the digital future, researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute have built Root, a robot meant to “bring coding to life”for a younger crowd.


The idea of making coding and programming fun and easy for kids isn't anything new. It's a new trend in education when you look at the myriad of programs out there like Tynker, Scratch, and GameStar Mechanic. So what makes Root different? Similar to the other programs, Root is an app update of the Turtle robot design. Think of a Roomba shaped robot that follows simple programs to help it crawl around the floor, draw various patterns, and avoid obstacles. As a way of making it stand out, Root has different sensors, like sound and color sensitivity. It also uses the device sensors of your mobile device, whether it'd be smartphone or tablet.


Raphael Cherney, researcher associate at the Wyss Institute says “Right now, coding is taught at a computer keyboard. It’s an abstract process that doesn’t have a relationship to the real world. What Root does is bring coding to life in an extremely fun and approachable way. Kids with no experience in coding can be programming robots in a matter of minutes.”


Root is a robot programmed using a tablet interface named Square. Along with the light and color sensors, it also has bumpers and a touch surface that allows it to respond in the physical world. By the sound of it, it's like a kid friendly tablet. Only instead of watching Bubble Guppies, the tablet is used to teach kids the basics of programming. The robot is also six-sided and is about the diameter of a mouse pad. This makes the device user friendly, pleasing to look at, and intuitive.


Even though the hardware is the same from kindergarten to college, the interface allows students to work at different levels depending how advanced they are. The different programming levels include a blocks-based environment for beginners and traditional text-based environments for older students. There's also a feature that lets users toggle between the levels helping ease the transition to advance programming.


Right now, Root is still a research project, so you can't buy one right now. It's currently being tested by kids themselves, some as young as five according to the institute. Along with further testing, researchers are also working on a curriculum for Root and are looking for the right partners for the device to make a reality. Anything that helps kids to learn new skills is welcomed, especially in a society so tech driven, but right now Root sounds pretty similar to other devices software aimed at beginners. Hopefully, we'll get to see what Root can do if reaches the masses soon.



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