Startup Calif. firm builds programmable robot for kids

Play-i, a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup, whose founders are passionate about making programming fun and easy to learn for the next generation, has announced the launch of its crowd-funding campaign to produce robots that children can play with and program. Their names are Bo and Yana.

Play-i’s mission is to give young children an engaging platform where they can experience the joy and magic of programming at a young age.

According to, by 2020 there will be 1.4 million more computer science jobs than there will be people to fill those jobs. Play-i aims to change that by getting children interested in programming at a young age. The company’s robots are fun and engaging and make learning to program an enjoyable experience.

Play-i is creating a visual programming environment on touch devices that meets children at their level of cognitive ability and motor skills, starting as early as age 5. Unlike other programming languages where children are first taught the syntax, Play-i focuses on learning through exploration, play, and discovery.

“As a father, I know that a child’s world is about play. Play-i robots make abstract concepts of programming concrete, unlocking a whole new world of imagination, creativity, and play for children,” said Vikas Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Play-i. “Every design choice we’ve made for our robots was to deliver play and programming as a priority, while also keeping our price down.”

Play-i robots are expressive, interactive and completely programmable. The programming interface for children requires no previous ability to read or write. The robots are playful—they can dance, play songs, and even collect the toys on the floor.

“What makes Play-i’s robots so unique and special is that they really connect with younger kids on an emotional level and make programming such a seamless and playful experience,” said Mike Dooley, the original Product Manager for LEGO Mindstorms and now a VP of Product and Business Development at iRobot and adviser for Play-i. “They are leveraging a legacy of ideas from research on computing, robotics, and children’s cognitive development, but have created something new and so accessible that even kids in the first or second grade can easily play with programming, and in the process, construct rich models for understanding the world.”

“Play-i gets how a developmentally appropriate introduction to programming can pave the way towards a lifelong interest and aptitude in computer science,” said Vibha Sazawal, lecturer and visiting research scientist at the University of Maryland and adviser for Play-i.

Play-i robots will be available in the summer of 2014 and are priced at $149 and $49 during the campaign.