Shree Bose is still a student at Harvard University, but she’s already accomplished more than many people do in their entire professional lives. At age 17, Bose scooped up $50,000 for winning the Google Science Fair. Her project: improving ovarian cancer outcomes for patients who had become resistant to chemotherapy. Once she got to Harvard, Bose continued her research, investigating cancer metabolism and DNA repair at a lab in Massachusetts General Hospital.
Now, Bose and her colleagues have raised over $67,000 (and counting) on Kickstarter for a project called Piper–a kit that allows kids to build real-world electronics while playing Minecraft.
The idea for Piper came originally from Bose’s cofounder, Mark Pavlyukovskyy, a recent Princeton graduate who was sending Raspberry Pi kits to kids in Africa as an inexpensive way for them to learn about technology. (Raspberry Pi is a small computer often used in DIY projects.)
“At the beginning, Mark and I and another software developer created a preliminary web coding game. We took it to a bunch of schools and we heard from kids that ‘this is really cool, but we play Minecraft. That’s what we like and want to play,'” she explains.
The final Piper product consists of a case, an LED screen, Raspberry Pi, a powerbank, a DIY Minecraft controller, a mouse, and all sorts of sensors, buttons, and lights that can be integrated into the kit. To play, kids have to assemble the box and connect all the pieces.
The plot involves the player sending a robot to a new planet, but his hardware becoming damaged. In order to control him on-screen, kids must add in his controller, along with buttons and wires.
New challenges require more hardware building. Mining resources in a lava lake, for example, requires players to build a switch that turns on a hidden bridge to take them to the lake. There are 10 hardware projects in all. “From there, you can build on your own,” says Bose.
The Piper crew has already done pilot testing with schools and museums. So far, it seems that the sweet spot for kids is ages 8 through the middle school years. But even playful adults can enjoy Piper, says Bose.
As for Bose–she’s just trying to balance between school and her newfound work. “It’s the same as what I was doing in high school with the Google Science Fair,” she says. “All of the things I’m doing are things I’m really excited about. I see this as the beginnings of a company and a brand.”
Piper is available for a $149 pre-order on Kickstarter.