SAN FRANCISCO — Vikas Gupta lives and works among Silicon Valley’s brightest engineers, but he worries about his 2-year-old daughter’s chance for a decent education to thrive in a world run by technology.
The serial entrepreneur, who had better opportunities growing up with India’s schools, sees a U.S. education system lacking to deliver programmers. He wants to change that.
Gupta and others formed Play-i, a startup focused on programmable robots aimed at children as young as five. Their idea is to make learning how to program robots easy.
“The question was, how can we make something that’s fun, that’s extremely inviting, and gets parents and kids into the magical world of programming at a young age?” says Gupta.
Mountain View, Calif.-based Playi ‘s two robots, named Bo and Yana, allow kids to manipulate their bright-colored orbs that make sounds, flash lights and move.
The robots are controllable by an iPad and are intended for kids to customize their functions and progressively learn building blocks of programming. Bo can playTwinkle Twinkle Little Star on a miniature xylophone and could offer infinite song possibilities if programmed. Yana can be programmed to make sounds such as a helicopter or ambulance and to flash.
Google Ventures and other investors injected $1 million in seed funding to get Gupta’s team of seven started earlier this year. The start-up began a crowd-sourced funding campaign today at Play-i.com to finance the completion of its first small production to test the market.
Bo and Yana will cost $149 and $49, respectively. Play-i expects to deliver 1,500 of the robots if the company reaches the $250,000 goal of its funding campaign. Play-i plans to ship customers the completed robots by June.
“It’s a tangible way for kids to get programming at a much younger age.” says Google Ventures partner Andy Wheeler. “Hopefully, within a few years they are expanding into retail and expanding the software and hardware components … to allow the toy to grow with the child.”
Play-i wants its robots in the hands of kids for testing and feedback. The company is planning to put them into an after school program for girls called Techbridge, based in Oakland, Calif.
“They are playful in a way that kids would connect with and see this as more than looking at a screen. It would be fun for kids,” says Linda Kekelis, executive director at Techbridge.