No assembler required | The Economist

February 24, 2017

No assembler required KIBO, Dash, Vortex & Hackaball provide a playful way to learn #programming

Blocky? Scratch Jr?

Dr Umaschi Bers is not alone in that quest. KIBO, made by KinderLab Robotics (of which she is chief science officer when she is not doing her day job), is unusual only in that its instruction set is so tied to physical objects.

Some, like Vortex (a wheeled device that resembles a flattened motorcycle helmet) and Dash (a tetrahedron of spheres which, besides moving around at its programmer’s command, can also play tunes on a glockenspiel), …

“Toys like Vortex, Dash and Hackaball use a variety of programming languages to encode the instructions that control them. These include Scratch, Blockly, Hopscotch and WeDo. Some of these languages are proprietary (WeDo, for instance, belongs to Lego).

Scratch Jr, which has been given a restricted set of subroutines and uses only positive integers for counting (because young children have difficulty with the concept of negative numbers) has proved
particularly popular. In the 12 months since its release, 1m copies of it have been downloaded. But Hopscotch (which also has a restricted set of subroutines) and Blockly (which, unlike Scratch, is fully open-source, and can thus have its underlying code tweaked by more advanced programmers) are also doing well.”