Root: The Little Robot That Teaches Kids To Code

Interesting Engineering

[Image Source: Harvard Gazette]

Have American public schools become "teach-to-the-test-while-killing-the-spirit educational assembly lines," as writer Nikhil Goyal asserts in his book, Schools On Trial: How Freedom And Creativity Can Fix Our Educational Malpractice? Nikhil's assessment of the American educational system is scathing and points out some very uncomfortable truths. So, what are some possible solutions to an educational system that is clearly not adapting to the rapid changes in society and technology?

One solution has just been created and comes in the form a powerful little robot that teaches kids how to code. It's called Root.

Shape-wise, it's reminiscent of the robot vacuum-cleaning Roomba. Root is designed specifically to spark the imaginations of children in the area of problem-solving. Root teaches children of varying ages how to code and is designed to intuitively adapt to different levels of learners. The robot comes with a programming environment called Square and it can draw, erase and magnetically drive on whiteboards. A tablet is used to give it commands.

[Image Source: Wyss Institute]

Root can understand many different programming languages, from a block-style graphical environment suitable for kindergartners to a text-based environment for intermediate level kids. Older kids can use JavaScript to program the robot. Root has a feature that lets kids toggle through different programming languages, thereby allowing them to transition to more advanced programming when they are ready.

Root was developed by a team of researchers at the Wyss Institute and they spent a great deal of time studying the robots already on the market for kids. What they discovered with all the existing teaching robots is that once the child figured out the limitations of the robot, they lost interest and discarded it. They created Root to be like an onion, with each layer of it designed for a particular age. As the child matures, another layer of exploration can be discovered organically. This multi-dimensional approach makes Root stand out as higher quality educational tool. The team who created Root is now seeking the right partners to help put Root into every classroom in the US.

Dubrovsky, one of the lead researchers who developed Root, has three young daughters who have tested the robot. He's absolutely ecstatic about the project because the kids who use it describe it as "exciting and fun". The researchers are predicting that Root could be available to the public in the middle of next year if the right investors step forward now. They also were able to drive down the cost to US$200 and Root is now production-ready. Who will step forward to make this into a reality for American schools? To reserve your own root, get more information and subscribe to their email newsletter go here:

[Image Source: Wyss Institute]

Root Hardware Features:

-Magnetic — Root can drive vertically on any metal-backed whiteboard or be used on the ground, a desk, or any flat surface

-Position and direction sensing — Root uses feedback from its wheel encoders, gyroscope, and accelerometer to drive accurate distances and angles

-Color scanner — Root can recognize and respond to the colors of lines it drives over with its 32 color sensors array

-Bumpers & touch surface — Root can respond to the physical world when it comes into contact with something through its two front bumpers or four capacitive touch keys on its top

-Lift & drop mechanisms — Root controls a dry-erase marker and eraser to draw or erase markings on whiteboard surface

-Ambient light sensors — Root perceives and can orient towards light sources in the room

-Light and sound output — Root has 15 multicolor LEDs and a speaker that can be used to provide feedback on the robot’s state

-Expansion port — Root can be customized with new hardware enhancements, mounted magnetically on its surface and interfaced directly with the robot’s microcontroller

Square interface features:

-Multi-level programming — Scoreable coding experiences that start with simple elements and scale to full text programming, all within the same iOS environment

-Real-time interactive environment — No compiling necessary; programs written in Square are executed in real time. Programming the natural way that students respond and think on the fly, users can flexibly adapt a program while it is running to pause, step, or add instructions at any time

-Real-time sensor values — Giving users constant access to what the robot sees and knows promotes agent-based thinking and facilitates the debugging of robot programs

-Event-based rules — Priorities and designated interruption can be used in a natural way to let the robot take actions in response to real-world conditions and events

-iOS ready — Square will first be available for download in the Apple App Store for use with any Bluetooth Low Energy iPad

-iOS sensors — Root can use and react to sensors on the host iOS device, enabling advanced interactions between the robot and the user

-Applications manager — Students can learn from, modify, create, share, and access an unlimited number of new activities and functions through a network of sharing programs and loading other users’ data  -Wyss Institute


“We’re in the digital world, but schools don’t teach coding. America needs computer programmers to be competitive — 71 percent of new jobs in STEM are going to be centered around coding. If we can solve this problem, this will be a big step forward for our country.” - Dubrovsky 

Leah Stephens is the author of Un-Crap Your Life: Navigating Life's Crappiest Situations.

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