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Making thinking tangible by programming robots in early childhood Read more

Arlington, MA Robots
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Funded!

This project was successfully funded on June 29, 2014.

Making thinking tangible by programming robots in early childhood

Arlington, MA Robots
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About this project

We reached our first stretch goal! But we still want to help schools!

Thanks so much for backing our project. We are thrilled to announce that you have enabled us to reach our goal of $50,000 and our stretch goal of 65,000. Every KIBO purchased through our Kickstarter campaign will come with a KIBO Project Guide with fun ideas to share with your children. 

We are still trying to reach our second stretch goal. If we get  $80,000 by June 29 we will start a fund for schools that need help affording their KIBOs. We’ll publish letters from these schools on our website so you can share the excitement of getting KIBOs to more kids. 

What is KIBO?

KIBO is a robot kit specifically designed for young children aged 4-7 years old. It is different from any other kit out there because it appeals to both technically minded kids and those that connect more to arts and culture or physical activity. Young children learn by doing. Children build their own robot with KIBO, program it to do what they want, and decorate it. KIBO gives children the chance to make their ideas physical and tangible—exactly what their young minds and bodies need. And KIBO does all this without requiring screen time from PCs, tablets or smartphones. 

The KIBO robot kit
The KIBO robot kit

Designed for open-ended play, KIBO lets children make almost anything - a character from a story, a carousel, a dancer, a race helicopter - anything that they can think of. The child creates a sequence of instructions (a program) using the wooden KIBO blocks. They scan the blocks with the KIBO body to tell the robot what to do. They press the button and the robot comes alive. With KIBO, young children can become programmers, engineers, designers, artists, dancers, choreographers and writers. And unlike other activity kits out there, KIBO is based on over 15 years of research in learning technologies and child development at a world-renowned educational research institution, including testing with over 300 children and 50 teachers.

WHAT DO CHILDREN LEARN WITH KIBO?

Coding (or programming) is a new kind of literacy. But it exercises mental muscles that are useful for many other activities and skills. When playing with KIBO, young children learn programming ideas that are directly related to foundational concepts in math, literacy, science and humanities. These include sequencing, modularity, cause-and-effect, and patterns. Research shows that sequencing is foundational for academic success, for math and literacy development, as well as for executive function. Furthermore, children engage in habits of mind such as: design process when they iteratively develop and test an idea; problem solving when their KIBO programs don’t work the way they want; and executive functions when they plan and execute their projects with different kinds of constraints such as time, resources or materials.

Girls proud of their project
Girls proud of their project

WHY PROGRAMMING ROBOTS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN?

Young children love to make things, and they love to make things that move and respond to their commands. Robotics brings together atoms and bits - the physical world and computational world. Robotics is a natural fit for young children’s interests and curiosities. Research shows that young children will learn programming and engineering at a very early age if they are given tools that are developmentally appropriate. 

Research also shows that children are most open to new ways of thinking about themselves when they are under the age of eight. So to ensure that their self-image includes enjoyment, understanding and competence in working with technology, it is best to expose them to it while they are open to soaking it up. That way they will grow up to have skills that give them both improved employment opportunities and a healthy outlet for self-expression.

Furthermore, research shows that from an economic and a developmental standpoint, educational programs that begin in early childhood are associated with lower costs and more durable effects than interventions that begin later on. Research also shows that introducing STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Math) in early childhood might help to avoid stereotypes. However, one of the major impediments for bringing technology and engineering into early childhood education is the lack of developmentally appropriate technologies. KIBO addresses this need.

Kids programming
Kids programming

WHY IS KIBO DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE FOR YOUNG CHILDREN?

KIBO is designed on a firm understanding of the cognitive, social, emotional and motor abilities and needs of young children. With KIBO young children can program without a PC screen, tablet or mobile phone. Children play with KIBO using their hands to manipulate wooden blocks with pictures of programming instructions.  

Programs made of wooden blocks are tangible, so they can be shared easily. They can be talked about and debugged in a social circle. Wooden programming blocks are naturally familiar and comfortable for children, in the tradition of learning manipulatives already used in early childhood classrooms to teach shapes, size and colors. 

Most research-based robotic construction kits are designed for older children. They come out of labs or universities with a focus on engineering and computer science. In contrast, KIBO was specifically designed for young children KIBO is based on over 15 years of research, funded by the National Science Foundation by Prof. Marina Umaschi Bers and her DevTech research group at Tufts University’s Eliot Pearson Department of Child Development.

Research was done with approximately 40 early childhood teachers and 300 young children in many classrooms to understand how to best design a robot kit for young children and to evaluate learning outcomes. The resulting research prototype was called KIWI, develop curriculum that allows them to integrate robotics with other content areas in their teaching. Investigations were done with parents to learn what they want for their young children and what they need as supporting materials for their homes.

Making a robot character from a storybook
Making a robot character from a storybook

 WHO IS MAKING KIBO?

KIBO's life started as the KIWI research prototype at the DevTech research group at Tufts University, directed by Marina Umaschi Bers, professor of Child Development and Computer Science. She dreamt with a robotic kit that her three young children could play with.  

Over the years Marina's DevTech research group received generous financial support from the National Science Foundation. Lots of prototypes were hand-built and used in many classrooms, from Pre-K to 2nd grade. However, Marina grew frustrated because she was often asked by parents and teachers: "How can I get a KIWI robot kit?" 

For many years she did not have a good answer because KIWIs were only hand-build prototypes. She knew that in order to make a technology commercially available for a wider audience, a different set of skills was needed. During a walk at Walden Pond, near Boston, her friend Mitch Rosenberg, veteran executive at several robotics start-ups, decided to join Marina to pursue a long-time dream of his: improving STEM education. Together, Marina and Mitch founded  KinderLab Robotics, Inc, with the goal of making critical technology and engineering skills fun to learn for young children.

KinderLab Robotics recently received initial funding from the National Science Foundation through an SBIR Phase I grant to explore the needed steps to take KIWI out of the lab and into the real world. However, to commercialize KIBO, KinderLab now needs to raise money to equip a manufacturing facility plus seed inventory for its first commercial-scale production run.

WHO FOUNDED KINDERLAB ROBOTICS?

Marina Umaschi Bers and Mitch Rosenberg
Marina Umaschi Bers and Mitch Rosenberg

Marina Umaschi Bers is a professor at Tufts University where she directs the DevTech research group, and she is chief scientist at KinderLab Robotics, Inc. She brings 20 years of research experience designing and evaluating learning technologies for children and pedagogical approaches that take advantage of programming and engineering to promote positive youth development. Besides the KIWI robotic prototype, she most recently  co-developed the ScratchJr programming language with Mitch Resnick from the MIT Media Lab and Paula Bonta from PICO. Before this, in the early years of virtual worlds, she created the Zora 3D world.

In 2005, Marina received the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) at the White House. She also received other awards including AERA’s Jan Hawkins award in learning technologies. Marina is from Argentina, earning her undergraduate degree from Buenos Aires University, M.Ed. from Boston University and MS and PhD from the MIT Media Lab working with Seymour Papert. He is the mathematician and educational visionary who developed the Logo programming language and laid the intellectual foundations for many of today’s creative learning technologies. 

More on Marina’s work and approach can be found in her books: 'Blocks to Robots: Learning with Technology in the Early Childhood Classroom' (Teacher's College Press, 2008) and 'Designing Digital Experiences for Positive Youth Development: From Playpen to Playground' (Oxford University Press, 2012). Marina has three children and loves to travel around the world and dance.

Mitch Rosenberg is the CEO at KinderLab Robotics. He brings over 30 years of experience in the technology industry in engineering, marketing, product management and sales. Mitch’s career has focused on the unique challenges of bringing new technologies to market. Mitch was part of teams that introduced the first commercial reading machines for blind people, early programmable machine vision systems for factory automation, the first commercial dial-up videoconferencing system, passport validation technology for border control, early consumer digital cameras, and several novel robot technologies.

He has executive experience at numerous technology firms, including robotics firms Automatix Inc., Kiva Systems (sold to Amazon in 2012) and Rethink Robotics. Three of the companies at which Mitch served on the executive team achieved successful liquidity events. Mitch received his BSEE and MSEE degrees from MIT and MBA from Boston University. Mitch has gone on thousands of miles of bicycle trips, has two children and during his vanishing free time loves to make pottery.

WHAT INSPIRED KIBO ?

KIBO was inspired by the wonderful family of robotic construction environments for children designed and developed with Seymour Papert’s Constructionist philosophy of education. Remember the first turtle of the LOGO programming language back in the 70’s? It was not on the screen- it was a physical robot that would move around the floor. Many years have passed since then, but the vision is still alive. We are lucky that today there are many flavors and choices of different robotic learning environments for children. KIBO makes its contribution by addressing an audience that was left behind but is particularly important: young children between 4 and 7 years.

Robots on parade
Robots on parade

 WHAT IS OUR PRODUCTION PLAN ? 

We have developed and tested three different generations of the KIWI prototype with children and teachers at Tufts University. After comparing notes and analyzing pros and cons, we decided on a final version. We built over 60 KIWI prototypes and tested them extensively. Based on those results, we licensed the technology and we are making the KIBO product. All mechanical and electrical designs are completed. Molds and circuit boards are being manufactured in China. All of the wood components as well as product assembly and testing will be done in the US. It will be a very busy summer in Arlington, MA! 

We have a strong team and we are confident that we will make our deadline. Our goal is to have the first manufacturing run of 1,000 KIBOs all assembled by loving hands. Exceeding our funding target will mean being able to have a second run and possibly bring the cost down.

Check us out at http://www.kinderlabrobotics.com

WHAT DO PARENTS SAY ?

  • “I really was scared and skeptical, but when my son did get to use it I was just blown away with how great everything was and the kinds of things he was able to do.” 
  • “My daughter loved it because she and her friends created a puppet show and the puppets sang and danced.” 

WHAT DO YOUNG KIDS SAY ?

  • “Look, look what I did. I made it myself!” 
  • “It is not a robot. It is something that you can program to do what you want. It is much better!”

WHAT DO TEACHERS SAY ?

  • “I loved it the design of it in particular. It is very clean, very clear, and so that focus on programming is definitely going to translate. If I put this block here, this happens.”
  • “This can pervade every aspect of the curriculum, and it can hook kids that aren’t traditional learners. Maybe their intelligence lies in a different area than what we emphasize in the traditional schools. I think it will be very powerful to get those kids hooked and teach them with this.” 
  • “I think those children that wouldn’t necessarily be interested in LEGO would be interested in it because they can use arts and crafts and recyclables in their robots and it is a lot easier.” 
  • “In a Montessori classroom we use wood, we use glass beads, we use things that are beautiful because it shows respect for the child as being able to take care of these things. KIBO fits right in there. The hardware itself doesn’t remind you of hardware, it reminds you of something more organic.“ 
  • “I like KIBO because it is very versatile, like a platform for staging something, I think that’s really cool.”

Risks and challenges

As with most Kickstarter projects, our main risk is to deliver our KIBOs within the estimated timeframe. We have taken all possible production issues into consideration, and planned our schedule accordingly. We have already released the mold, that is being manufactured in China and we are working with an experienced team to set up our assembly line here in the US. We are getting ready for production. In the unlikely event that a delay in shipping happens, we will know it promptly and we will contact our backers with a new delivery date.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

FAQ

  • Yes and yes! We believe that a great technology is not enough. We have developed lots of supporting materials for parents and teachers. We also have student's assessments for schools.

    For those people pledging at the activity center, teaching materials and assessments are included.

    Later on, the teaching material and assessments could be bought individually.

    Last updated:

Rewards

  • You selected
    Pledge $5 or more

    32 backers

    Personal thank you! Email from the KIBO team thanking you from the bottom of our hearts.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $20 or more

    44 backers

    Public thank you! Your name in lights on our website for all to see.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $50 or more

    15 backers

    Let’s play! Kids play robot while learning KIBO's programming commands. This reward is game cards. KIBO robot not needed nor included.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $125 or more

    12 backers

    Learn from the Guru! Get two books written by KinderLab co-founder Prof. Marina Umaschi Bers about how children learn new technologies-- personally autographed to you by the author. Plus KIBO stickers for the child in your life.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $219 or more

    34 backers

    Motion KIBO kit to get your kid rolling in technology. Kit includes: robot body with two motor modules and two wheels. Twelve wooden programming blocks and 5 parameter cards that control KIBO's motion and sound behaviors.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $344 or more

    15 backers

    Makers’ Delight. Bag-o-parts for the Deluxe KIBO so you can build your own. Instructions provided. Complete set of unassembled Deluxe KIBO parts, including: robot body with three motor modules, two wheels, three sensors (light, distance, sound), one light output, two art platforms. Seventeen programming blocks and fourteen parameter cards.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $349 or more

    120 backers

    Deluxe KIBO kit. Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, including: robot body with three motor modules, two wheels, three sensors (light, distance, sound), one light output, two art platforms. Seventeen programming blocks and fourteen parameter cards.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $600 or more

    3 backers

    Personalized KIBO, plus bag of tricks. Deluxe KIBO kit described above with your child’s name or logo of your school/company permanently manufactured into the robot body. Plus one signed book by Prof. Marina Umaschi Bers, one activity pack of projects to try with your child, and KIBO children's design journal with stickers.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $1,000 or more

    11 backers

    KIBO Activity Center. School Intro Package for teaching robotics to kids in small groups (2 Deluxe KIBO kits plus classroom teaching materials and assessments). Donate to your favorite school, pre-school or after-school program!

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $3,000 or more

    1 backer

    Dinner with the founders. Marina and Mitch take you to a great Boston area restaurant to hear all the inside stories and to brainstorm about future direction for product enhancements. Transportation to Boston not included.

    Estimated delivery:

Funding period

- (30 days)