Meet My Loopy.
It’s a three-inch tall, green and blue robot, with a white dome on top of its head that lights up. It’s from the planet “Loopitron,” and it landed here to teach children as young as four-years-old how to write computer code.
Pramod Abichandani is the founder and CEO of LocoRobo Innovations Inc., the Philadelphia based robotics company that created My Loopy, which is expected to go on the market this fall.
Abichandani says it’s a social robot — think “Furby” — but there’s a key difference.
“We married that classic play pattern with modern technology and robotics intelligence or artificial intelligence,” Abichandani said.
With its artificial intelligence, My Loopy has seven toy-grade sensors that respond to touch, light, sound, proximity, temperature, and motions to learn from its user and their environment. There are six red, green and blue LED lights on top of its domed head that respond to the learned interactions.
“Slowly and steadily, Loopy’s personality goes through multiple stages of development just like a little kid’s personality would do, “Abichandani said.
As the robot interacts more with its child user, its intelligence algorithm is programmed to decide which colors to light up and decide expressions it will show through its eyes, which have 24 expressions. It’s also programmed with more than 250 phrases and responses in the English language, and tells age-appropriate jokes for young users like, “How do oceans say hello to each other? They wave.”
“It’s a little sassy sometimes. It’s a little humorous sometimes,” Abichandani said. “So that’s when [kids] start thinking about what causes this, why is this happening? And that’s the perfect moment to introduce science technology engineering and math in a kid’s life.”
Abichandani said My Loopy does not require an app to operate, but there is a free phone app available that introduces kids as young as four to the engineering behind the robot and other STEM concepts.
Kids can use the app to program Loopy’s sensors to react to different actions, say different things or create new light patterns on its domed head. Children with more advanced skills can code Loopy using different programming languages, including Python, Java, and C++.
While there are similar robot devices for children on the market, Abichandani said his goal is to create a product that is both educational and affordable.
“Most robots that are available in the market and specially kids robots require apps to even do basic things with them,” Abichandani said. “But to us, when kids use an app to control a robot more often than not we have found that the robot becomes a [remote control] toy.”
While the My Loopy app is the educational tool, Abichandani said kids can also learn by simply playing with the robot and observing how it interacts with them.
Unlike LocoRobo’s other robotics programs and systems for schools, which are also more expensive, the company created this robot to engage children and families at home for under $100. Early supporters of My Loopy can pre-order their robot to arrive in September.
Amanda Sullivan, associate director of the early childhood technology graduate certificate program at Tufts University, works with children in pre-Kindergarten through second grade and studies their use of robotic technology.
As a researcher at DevTech Research Group, she worked on several projects, including the Ready for Robotics project, in which Sullivan focused on developing a low-cost, robotics construction kit designed for early childhood education.
“Robotics and coding in early childhood education can foster a range of cognitive and social skills, such as number sense, language skills, visual memory,” Sullivan said. “They can help children develop stronger mathematical concepts, such as numbers, size, and shape in much the same way that traditional materials like pattern blocks, beads, and balls do.”
But when it comes to engaging children with technology, Sullivan says many parents and educators also worry about the potential downsides like too much screen time and questions about safety and privacy.
The My Loopy robot does not connect to the internet, addressing those concerns about privacy and recording. Its sensors respond to interactions.
As for concerns about screen time, Abichandani emphasized that while the app is available to learn how Loopy functions, kids can still have a fun, interactive experience with the robot without it.
“We find that a lot of times it kind of reinforces this entire idea of kids and tablet devices or our kids and phones — kids in front of screens,” he said. “So the entire idea of having a robot that can be controlled using an app for me doesn’t work.”