Lauren Goode

Recent Posts by Lauren Goode

One Robot Per Child? Former Googler, Apple Engineer Tackle Educational Bots.

There are apps that teach kids the basics of programming.

And then there are robots that get the job done.

That’s the vision of a group of four tech entrepreneurs who late last year formed a company called Play-i with the purpose of creating educational robots for kids.

The Bay Area-based company is still very much in the early stages of building out its bots and determining their form and functionality.

Vikas Gupta, Play-i’s founder and CEO, said the robots will be targeted at children aged 5 to 8, and will most likely work in conjunction with tablets. Using a tablet or other mobile device running compatible software, the child will be able to program his or her robot to perform certain actions.

Gupta said the company is aiming to keep the price point low — very low. Unlike the personal robots we’ve seen to date, Play-i wants to keep its bots at under $100, making it a direct-to-consumer play.

But Play-i is light on other details. It’s unclear how large or powerful the robots will be, whether they’ll have a humanoid shape or take on more of a mechanical form, and ultimately, which software they’ll run on or work with. And the robots won’t necessarily speak. (Although, one thing is certain: These aren’t the super-poweful robots that are going to do your chores for you.)

So, why robots, when there are plenty of lightweight and tablet-friendly apps now that teach kids how to program? The Play-i team believes that learning should be tangible and fun, and that bossing hardware robots around is more interesting than, say, instructing an animated bot to draw a line.

“We believe tangible interaction is what grabs children, something that’s much more engaging for them beyond just having a software screen in front of them,” Gupta said.

And what was cost-prohibitive a few years ago in robotics isn’t as pricey any more, Gupta said, with the increasing accessibility of sensors in the market and the advancements in processors.

Play-i is the brainchild of Gupta, who in his last role was the head of consumer payments at Google; Mikal Greaves, formerly of Frog Design; Saurabh Gupta, who led the iPod software team at Apple from 2006 to 2012; and Imran Kahn, previously the head of marketing at Eloan and Symantec.

The company just secured $1 million in seed funding from Google Ventures, Madrona Venture Group and individual private investors. Later this summer, Play-i will launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise more money for production.

(The photo above was taken at a museum in Moscow and is not indicative of Play-i’s product plans. Photo courtesy of Liza Azarova/Flickr Creative Commons.)

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus