root robot, harvard, coding
Kids can code the Root robot to write, erase and follow a path around a whiteboard. Photo: Provided by Wyss Institute at Harvard University

Want your kid to get into coding? There will soon be a new wall-climbing robot on the market, developed at Harvard University, to help you do just that.

 

Root is an educational robot developed by faculty at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. Three Wyss employees recently started Root Robotics, a startup company that is commercializing Root to bring the robot to the masses.

 

“Our mission is to make coding accessible for any age, any background and any experience [level],” said Zee Dubrovsky, co-founder and CEO of Root Robotics and former engineering staff lead at the Wyss Institute. “Ultimately, we think that robots are the best way to engage in that journey.”

 

So how does Root work? The compact robot can be programmed and operated from an iPad to complete an array of tasks, like driving on vertical surfaces, drawing, erasing, playing music, and sensing and responding to its surroundings.

 

But what makes Root unique, Dubrovsky said, is how it becomes more sophisticated as its user grows their coding skills. Many STEM toys are about variety — from coding to 3D printing to assembling a circuit — but not about educational depth, he said.

 

“Were creating this gigantic pathway from a 4-year-old’s first experience with a robot and learning to code and thinking, ‘Hey I can do this,’ to now college students in [Harvard professor Radhika Nagpal]’s classroom doing things with that same robot,” he said.

Meet Root: The Robot that Brings Code to Life from Wyss Institute on Vimeo.

You read that right: A Harvard class is actually using Root to teach undergrads coding — the same robot that will soon be marketed to parents who want to see their little ones gaining tech skills.

That’s because there are three levels to Root’s programming system, bringing you from a beginner to someone writing full text codes in real, career-based coding languages like Python and JavaScript.

Dubrovsky’s own daughter, at only 10 years old, coded Root to write her name. She brought it into show-and-tell at her school and had Root write on her classroom’s whiteboard. 

“It was one of those drop-the-mic moments,” he said. “That was something special that Root gave her.”

To Dubrovsky, the ability to program a robot like that will be a necessary skill in the future.

“Learning and understanding how digital things actually work is going to be currency of the world,” he said. “My dream is that root is going to be this generation's reason of falling in love with coding.”

Root Robotics raised $2.5 million in seed funding from investors and secured the worldwide license needed to manufacture Root. The robot will be priced at $199 and is currently being factory manufactured; Dubrovsky expects mass production to hit the market in March.