18 Oct Cubetto – coding for toddlers
Cubetto looks like a little wooden box, with a smiley face on one side and an arrow on the top indicating its direction. Two large wheels are embedded mostly inside the body; these, combined with the small plastic bumps on the front and back, allow Cubetto to roll around and turn left and right. Programming with blocks isn’t intrinsically exciting. Instead, the joy comes from helping kids balance an abstract set of directions with the very real contents of their living rooms.
Their first product is a $225 kit that consists of two Arduino powered components, a plywood board that acts like a compiler and a wooden robot called “Cubetto” that works like a three dimensional cursor. Colorful wooden blocks are encoded with instructions for the robot and when placed in sequence on the compiler board they become a kind of low-fi software.
The board is a large panel–plastic on underside with a wooden top–also powered by 3 AA batteries. The face of the board has 16 slots. and a large blue button. The first 12 slots are arranged in a back-and-forth line (ending with the button), and the last 4 slots are in a line in a rectangle. Each slot has a small LED below it that lights up when you put the blocks in.
To program, you use the “blocks”–flat plastic pieces with a small knob on the bottom. Using a special area of the board, the sippy cup set can create a four-step function, like making Cubetto move in a circle, that can be invoked by placing a special green block. The knobs fit into the slots on the board, oriented in the right direction. The shapes of the blocks also match the direction of movement. The green pieces are for “move forward” and point in the direction of the program. Red and yellow pieces turn left and right, and are curved with a point to either side. Finally, the blue “echo” block will run whatever sequence is placed in the rectangle at the bottom of the board.
Every Cubetto Playset comes with all the necessary parts to begin play right out of the box:
3. 16 Blocks (4x Forward, 4x Right, 4x Left, 4x Function)
4. 1x1m World Map
5. Story Book
The map is a large paper mat with colorful graphics and coordinates marked along the edges. There are a few landmarks, like an oak tree and a boat and mountains, which are referenced in the storybook. I’m not sure if the final product will also be paper, but mine had some creases where it was folded. The creases didn’t seem to interfere with Cubetto’s movement, though. Another map included with my sample unit had an outer space theme; currently the project has hit a stretch goal to include a second map with each set, and there are additional maps that will be included in the expansion packs.