Perfect for children aged 6 to 12, an engaging new toy called Photon encourages learning the basics of coding. It achieves this by being programmable via a special gamified app, and by being great fun.
The story behind the first educational robot that grows together with its operator is charmingly evocative and suited to children’s imaginations. Whilst travelling between galaxies in his spaceship, Photon has had an accident and is now seeking refuge on Earth where he needs your help to learn his way around. This set up immediately invites little minds to explore and engage, with the robot mimicking their own development.
The problem with modern education
With the entire world getting more and more digitalised by the minute, it looks that learning how to code and programme is the smart thing to do. It might soon get to the point where the lack of any such skills will be viewed much like illiteracy is today. We teach reading and writing from a very early age in our schools, but not necessarily the basics of programming, even though computers have been central to the functioning of our civilisation for quite some time already.
This educational shortcoming is something that is ingeniously addressed by Photon, a toy robot made in Poland. Meant for kids aged 6 to 12, it has them learning the basics of coding without any sense of effort, allowing them to programme their new metal friend via an app that gamifies the whole process. Thanks to its well-thought-out concept, devised by a young team with ties to the Białystok University of Technology in collaboration with child psychologists and designers, Photon not only has high educational value but is also massively engaging.
The cutest robot in town
Photon is an adorable little fellow (less than 20cm in every dimension) that looks a bit like a white rabbit. His creators built a whole story around him, how as an extra-terrestrial being travelling between galaxies in a spaceship, he had an accident and had to seek refuge on Earth where he needs help in learning his way around. The storyline is accessed through the robot’s dedicated mobile app, the same one used for programming and interactions. By helping Photon find the scattered pieces of his spacecraft after it was destroyed by an asteroid, you get points that enable you to expand his capabilities. Completing the storyline objectives is done by solving simple logic assignments or basic coding. This happens in a gamified way ensuring that the young ones have lots of fun while they’re at it.
Interestingly, the robot is basically clueless when you switch it on for the first time. Even though it’s equipped with wheels, it can’t even move around. It’s up to the child operating the robot to teach it how to do that using the app. And that’s really one of the toy’s greatest aspects, that it develops together with its operator. The more a kid learns by playing the storyline, the more Photon is capable of doing. And the little thing has the potential to do quite a lot as it is equipped with numerous sensors, e.g. a sound sensor that lets it react to voice, and cool gadgets like illuminated antennae. Its creators say that it’s complex enough to be fun for years, not just for one season like many of the toys out there.
Behind the scenes
As a toy that teaches the basics of coding and logical thinking through engaging play, Photon really seems like a priceless invention. We owe this great idea to a five-person team made up of students, graduates and a teacher from Poland’s Białystok University of Technology. Among these smart gentlemen, there’s Michał Grześ, who worked as the main constructor on the award-winning Mars rover Hyperion 2 and Marcin Joka, this year’s MIT Innovators Under 35 nominee. It’s safe to say that the guys behind Photon know their onions. The toy they created has already won a medal at the 2015 Brussels Innova exhibition about new technologies and inventions, as well as a Good Design award from Poland’s Institute of Industrial Design. Photon is set to hit the English-language market in the first quarter of 2017 and will probably be priced at around $200 – not bad for something that seems priceless.