Bloks is a physical system for kids to learn coding. It's like Lego for code.
Google announced today Project Bloks. A new hardware system for kids to learn coding in a physical way. Project Bloks, a research collaboration between Google, Paulo Blikstein (Stanford University) and IDEO with the goal of creating an open hardware platform that researchers, developers and designers can use to build physical coding experiences.
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As a first step, Google created a system for tangible programming and built a working prototype with it. Google is sharing our progress before conducting more research over the summer to inform what comes next.
Making code physical - known as tangible programming - offers a unique way to combine the way children innately play and learn with computational thinking.
Google's vision is that, one day, the Project Bloks platform becomes for tangible programming what Blockly is for on-screen programming.
The Project Bloks system is made up of three core components the “Brain Board”, “Base Boards” and “Pucks”. When connected together they create a set of instructions which can be sent to connected devices, things like toys or tablets, over wifi or Bluetooth.
Pucks are what make the Project Bloks system so versatile. They help bring the infinite flexibility of software programming commands to tangible programming experiences. Pucks can be programmed with different instructions, such as ‘turn on or off’, ‘move left’ or ‘jump’. They can also take the shape of many different interactive forms—like switches, dials or buttons.
With no active electronic components, they’re also incredibly cheap and easy to make. At a minimum, all you'd need to make a puck is a piece of paper and some conductive ink.
Base Boards read a Puck’s instruction through a capacitive sensor. They act as a conduit for a Puck’s command to the Brain Board. Base Boards are modular and can be connected in sequence and in different orientations to create different programming flows and experiences. Each Base Board is fitted with a haptic motor and LEDs that can be used to give end-users real time feedback on their programming experience. The Base Boards can also trigger audio feedback from the Brain Board’s built-in speaker.
The Brain Board is the processing unit of the system, built on a Raspberry Pi Zero. It also provides the other boards with power, and contains an API to receive and send data to the Base Boards. It sends the Base Boards’ instructions to any device with WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity and an API. As a whole, the Project Bloks system can take on different form factors and be made out of different materials. This means developers have the flexibility to create diverse experiences that can help kids develop computational thinking: from composing music using functions to playing around with sensors or anything else they care to invent.
Google is looking for participants (educators, developers, parents and researchers) in Project Bloks here.
While Project Bloks has for sure its merits, I am more excited about Apple's Swift Playground. The prospect that kids can go seamlessly from playing with Swift programming language to releasing an app on the iTunes app store has my 7-year-old already super excited.
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