Kickstarter: Sparki

For only the second time I just backed a Kickstarter project, this time “Sparki – The Easy Robot For Everyone“.  With luck it will manage to get the second half of its $60,000 goal by the end of May 2013.

So why Sparki?

SparkiBack when I worked as a teaching assistant in the Computer Science Department at university I had the pleasure of doing outreach work with local schools, showing kids a little of what computer science is and how it works, ostensibly to drum up some interest in the subject.  We had some success, and pleasingly it wasn’t always the ones you’d expect who got enthusiastic.

Anyway, our most popular activity was always using the Lego Mindstorm kits where the kids – from early high school to sixth form – could use the simple GUI to create programs for the Lego robots.  They’d start simple – forwards and backwards, go in a square, etc – right up to playing with the bump sensors to do an obstacle course or using the light sensors to follow a twisting line of black tape.  The best one was invariably getting the robots to race around a track – though admittedly, the tumbles and crashes got more cheering than a neatly executed turn (and I can’t blame them).

All this showed me how well kids could engage with simple programming to control a robot, and move on to more complex programming concepts like loops and conditional statements, or using inputs to drive outputs.  Now I have a child of my own.  OK, he’s only one year old, not yet up to building the next Mars rover, but I’m thinking ahead.  Hence Sparki.  Yes, it’s a simplified interface compared to a full vanilla Arduino, but that’s ideal for my boy to get to get started with when he’s ready, and in the meantime, well – we’ve already seen that I’m more than happy to play with Lego robots.  My boy will grow up seeing me playing with Sparki, and I hope he’ll want to join in.

My dad had shown me programming on a Dragon 32 by the time I was in high school; his grandson will be building robots.

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