4 Robots That Aim to Teach Your Kids to Code

You’ve seen apps and toys that promise to teach your child to code. Now enter the robots.

At the CES electronics show in January, coding robots came out in force. One convention hall area was packed with everything from chip-embedded, alphabet-like coding blocks to turtle-like tanks that draw on command.

Of course, no one can really say how well these coding bots teach kids, or even whether learning to code is the essential life skill that so many in the tech industry claim. After all, by the time today’s elementary-school kids are entering the workforce, computers may well be programming themselves.

But experts like Jeff Gray, a computer science professor at the University of Alabama and an adviser to the nonprofit coding education group Code.org, say kids can derive other benefits from coding robots and similar toys. They can, for instance, learn “persistence and grit” when the toys inevitably do something unintended, he says.

So if you’re in the market for a coding robot that teaches and maybe even entertains, here’s a look at four that were on display at CES. But beware: None of them are cheap.

CUBETTO

London-based Primo Toys, the makers of this mobile wooden block, believes kids can learn coding concepts at age 3 before they can even read. And they don’t even need a screen.

The “Cubetto” block on wheels responds to where chip-embedded pieces are put on a wooden board. Different colors represent different commands – for example, to “go straight” or “turn left.”

Kids can bunch together a number of commands into what’s called a function and can also make Cubetto repeat actions in a loop.

Pros: Good for parents who want to avoid more screens

Cons: Doesn’t offer an immediate path to real coding

Price: $226

ROOT

Root Robotics’ flattish, hexagonal droid has downward-facing scanners, magnetic wheels, touch-reactive panels, lights, motion sensors, and a pen-grabbing hole in the center of its body.

Controlling it does require a screen.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts, company also claims kids don’t need to be able to read and can start playing with Root at age 4.

Root draws, moves, sees and reacts to touch and various other commands. Kids can use Root to start drawing lines and progress to creating snowflake-like mathematical patterns called fractals.

Co-founder Zee Dubrovsky says his daughter began coding with Root at age 4, and progressed up to the point where her robot drew her name on a whiteboard in school.

Pros: Sturdy frame; kids can progress from graphical block-based codes to text coding

Cons: Requires lots of clean, flat surface area, preferably whiteboards. Root has three difficulty levels, some of which wade into deeper math, so parental time commitment could be considerable. The Kickstarter-launched company has taken a while to ship items, so delivery could be delayed

Price: $199

Shipping: June 2018 (although the company has been working to fulfill Kickstarter orders since May 2017)

COZMO

This bundle of personality on wheels debuted in 2016. It now comes with an app called Code Lab, which allows kids to drag and drop blocks of code that control its movements and animations. They can even access facial and object recognition functions enabled by Cozmo’s front-facing camera.

Cozmo, recommended for kids aged 8 and up, looks like a little tractor and can pick up interactive cubes, which are included.

Part of its appeal are the twitches and tweets that make it seem like an energetic pet, according to Boris Sofman, the CEO and co-founder of Cozmo maker Anki, based in San Francisco.

Pros: Its expressive eyes and movements make it seem like a little R2-D2

Cons: Because it’s so full of personality, there might be a disconnect between programming it to do things and just letting it be itself

Price: $180

EVO

 

This dome-shaped, wheeled dynamo about the height of a few fingers looks for direction right out of the box – and comes equipped to follow around any finger placed before its frontal camera.

 

“We want kids to immediately engage with a robot,” says Nader Hamda, founder and CEO of Evo’s maker, Redondo Beach, California-based Ozobot.

The robot makes sounds, flashes lights, moves and can sense and react to its environment.

An app helps kids – aged 8 and up – program Evo to do what they want. The bot’s downward facing scanners also let it follow lines drawn on regular paper, some of which embody coding instructions. For instance, blue-black-blue gets it to speed up; green-red-green-red tells it to spin.

Pros: It’s cheaper than other coding bots

Cons: It doesn’t do quite as much as other bots

Price: $89

Disposable Delivery Drone Goes Where Other Services Do Not

Plastic foam, plywood and some other plastic parts could make the difference between life and death.

These are the materials that make up a delivery drone created by DASH Systems. The California company also describes its lightweight aircraft as an unmanned aerial vehicle or glider.

It can be used to deliver up to 20 kilograms of food, medicine or other essential supplies to people in need in areas that traditional shipping and delivery companies cannot reach. And because it’s made of low-cost materials, it’s disposable, so there is no worry about getting it back.

“Many times, we found that during times of crisis or humanitarian need, it’s very, very difficult to get supplies into remote regions,” said Joel Ifill, chief executive officer and co-founder of DASH Systems.

“Couple that with reduced or destroyed infrastructure. Those are the areas and circumstances under which this system really shines,” said DASH Systems co-founder Joe Caravella.

The system’s aim is targeted, precision delivery. There is a built-in Global Positioning System device that provides enough accuracy to land the vehicle in the courtyard of a hospital.

“You can always fly an airplane overhead, so we help bridge that gap. Using our technology, you can throw a package out of an airplane and have it land right at the area of use,” Ifill said.

The DASH Systems delivery drone will go to places too dangerous or remote for other global shipping services such as FedEx or DHL.

“So, for instance, a delivery in South Sudan or Puerto Rico — oftentimes every traditional carrier will say no. Organizations are willing to pay the fair market value for those trips. They just do not have the solution,” said Ifill.

Ifill thought of this solution while working on smart bombs at a previous job.

“Actually, I felt bad about essentially making technology that was designed to harm and kill people. So, I wondered what else could I do with the technology of a smart bomb, something that can launch from an airplane and land within inches. And I thought, ‘Why can’t I use that same technology to deliver packages and goods?’ ”

DASH Systems says its unmanned glider is unlike other methods of delivery to remote places that have been developed thus far.

“There are a variety of parachute-type systems where you can drop things out of airplanes. We’re hoping to improve the whole operation, both with deploying it at the right time and then guiding the package to where it needs to be, to be more accurate than anything currently on the market,” said Caravella.

Tesla’s Roadster Takes Flight, Enters Orbit

Billionaire CEO Elon Musk is off to a big 2018. He’s chief executive of both SpaceX and Tesla. His space-travel company launched off the planet and into orbit a roadster from his electric car company. It was the latest milestone for an executive who looks to revolutionize space travel and technology. Arash Arabasadi reports.

Ride-Sharing Uber and Self-Driving Car Firm Waymo Settle Legal Battle

Ride-sharing giant Uber and the self-driving car company Waymo have agreed to settle their legal battle over allegedly stolen trade secrets.

The surprise agreement Friday came as lawyers for the companies prepared to wrap up the first week of the case’s jury trial in San Francisco, California.

As part of the agreement, Uber will pay $245 million worth of its own shares to Waymo.

Waymo sued Uber last year, saying that one of its former engineers who later became the head of Uber’s self-driving car project took with him thousands of confidential documents.

After the lawsuit was filed, Uber fired the employee and fell behind on its plans to roll out self-driving cars in its ride-sharing service.

Waymo, a company hatched from Google, says the settlement also includes an agreement that Uber cannot use Waymo confidential information in its technology.

“We have reached an agreement with Uber that we believe will protect Waymo’s intellectual property now and into the future. We are committed to working with Uber to make sure that each company develops its own technology,” Waymo said in a statement.

Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, expressed regret for the company’s actions in a statement Friday.

“While we do not believe that any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber, nor do we believe that Uber has used any of Waymo’s proprietary information in its self-driving technology, we are taking steps with Waymo to ensure our Lidar and software represents just our good work,” Khosrowshahi said in a statement.

Lidar is a laser-based system that helps self-driving cars to navigate their surroundings.

The trial so far included testimony from former Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick, who denied any attempt to steal trade secrets from Waymo.

Uber has faced a series of recent struggles, including public accusations of sexual harassment at the company and accusations it used software to thwart government regulators.

Russians Held for ‘Mining Bitcoin’ At Top Nuclear Lab

Engineers at Russia’s top nuclear research facility have been detained after they attempted to mine bitcoin on its computers, Russian news agencies reported Friday.

Several employees at the Russian Federal Nuclear Center in the city of Sarov have been detained after making “an attempt to use the work computing facilities for personal ends, including for so-called mining,” a spokeswoman for the center, Tatiana Zalesskaya, told Interfax news agency.

“Their activities were stopped in time,” she added.

“The bungling miners have been detained by the competent authorities. As far as I know, a criminal case has been opened regarding them,” she added, without saying how many were detained.

The center is overseen by Rosatom, the Russian nuclear agency, and works on developing nuclear weapons.

Such attempts “at our enterprises will be harshly put down, this activity technically has no future and is punishable as a crime,” the center’s spokeswoman said.

In 2011, the center switched on a new supercomputer with a capacity of 1 petaflop, which at the time made it the twelfth most powerful in the world, Russian television reported.

During the Cold War, Sarov was a top-secret city in the Nizhny Novgorod region, about 500 kilometers (300 miles) east of Moscow. Its Soviet-era name was Arzamas-16.

The center was the birthplace of the Soviet Union’s first nuclear weapons.

Sarov is still a closed city whose inhabitants are subject to travel restrictions.

Vladimir Putin visited the nuclear research center in 2012 while campaigning for president.

YouTube Suspends Ads From Video Star Logan Paul’s Channels

YouTube has temporarily suspended all ads from video star Logan Paul’s channels after what it calls a pattern of behavior unsuitable for advertisers.

In an emailed statement, YouTube said that the videos on Paul’s channels are also “broadly damaging to the broader creator community.”

Last month, Paul posted video of himself in a forest near Mount Fuji in Japan near what appeared to be a body hanging from a tree. YouTube suspended the 22-year-old at the time for violating its policies. But Paul returned, and has since posted a video of himself using a Taser on dead rats. That video is still up, with an age restriction.

An email sent to Paul’s merchandise company for comment was not immediately answered Friday. YouTube is owned by Google parent company Alphabet.