There’s a new trend happening. Call it the Daddening of Tech: men who have made their fortunes in Silicon Valley suddenly having children, and becoming concerned that the walled gardens they in part helped to create have shut their kids out from learning to code. Now one is trying to fix the problem . . . with robots.
Vikas Gupta, Google’s ex-head of consumer payments, is a dad with a coding conscience. After his daughter was born, he became very concerned about how she would learn to code when all of the smartphones and tablets kids are growing up on today are for the passive consumption of content, not for tinkering or building things. So he founded Wonder Workshop, a company that focuses on one problem: making coding, and learning to code, fun and easy for every child through play. His solution? A couple of cute, Pixar-ish robots called Dash and Dot that kids can easily learn to program through a connected smartphone or tablet app.
Conceptually, Wonder Workshop’s concept is a lot like a mash-up of two apps we’ve previously covered on Co.Design, Tinybop’s The Everything Machine and Robot Factory. Using a colorful touchscreen-based app called Wonder to connect an assortment of code modules, kids can program the Dash and Dot robots to do all sorts of things: For example, navigate a race course, dance in a circle when you clap your hands, or even operate as simple accelerometer-based musical instruments.
The difference between Dash and Dot is ability. At $49.99, Dot is the more affordable robot: He’s basically a big robot head, slightly Minion-like in appearance, loaded with sensors and accelerometers. He can’t get around by himself, but he can be programmed to talk, flash lights, blink, and make all sorts of sounds. Dash, meanwhile, is the autonomous version of Dot. Costing $149.99, he’s got wheels that allow him to get around by himself, allowing kids to learn how to program a robot to move. In a fun twist, both robots are compatible with Lego bricks through a $20 accessory, which allows kids to personalize their robots. There’s also an optional Launcher that can be connected to Dash to turn him into a robot catapult.
It’s all very cute, but Dash and Dot represent an attempt to solve a very real problem facing kids and parents today, says Gupta. In the United States, most kids learn computer science only in high school, and even then, it’s an elective course. “There’s a big gap in computer education in this country,” Gupta says. “The world is becoming more infused with technology and software by the day, but children aren’t being taught to master those skills.”
Without learning how to make computers work for them, Gupta worries that kids growing up in our increasingly connected world will feel stripped of agency. “Coding isn’t just a valuable skill for programmers,” he argues. “Doctors, architects, engineers: no matter what a kid wants to do, they won’t be nearly as good at it if they don’t understand computer science.” Dash and Dot are Wonder Workshop’s attempt to start empowering kids as young as six with a deep understanding of computer science by making coding and robotics fun, affordable, and accessible to everyone.