As I was thinking about National Manufacturing Day this week, and looking at the many events around the country and area, I noticed a trend. Most of the companies participating are opening their doors to children. Showing manufacturing to kids early is a great way to encourage them to go into a career in manufacturing, whether it’s as an engineer or skilled machine operator. And at the same time, a cute prototype toy came across my desk—TROBO, the storytelling robot. So even though I’m not in manufacturing exactly, I thought I’d show parents of young children one way to encourage interest in STEM topics. And this encouragement may just lead to interest in manufacturing one day.
As a Mom of two young girls who tries to limit their screen time (I think most video games and apps are simply brain-numbing!), I have to admit this is a cute idea and one I can get behind. I like that TROBO teaches science, technology, engineering, and math in a fun manner with stories and puzzles. I am a big proponent of educating our young that manufacturing jobs not only could be an option but should be an option for their future careers. And unlike most talking toys out there, I think it’s cool that users will be able to purchase new stories to keep their kids interest in these very important topics.
Founded by two engineers who came from the entertainment industry, Chris Harden and Jeremy Scheinberg, TROBO is currently just over halfway through a Kickstarter campaign that ends on Monday night.
TROBO itself is not a moving robot—it is a more like a cuddly stuffed doll that interacts with children via a wireless speaker and an iPad. Two versions—Edison, a boy and Curie, a girl—read to children and encourage curiosity by engaging with them through puzzles, questions and storytelling. TROBO will first come with access to an iPad app with five stories and puzzles that help kids learn science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM as we all know it now). Later stories and puzzles will be available for purchase later.
Key to the design is the software, said Harden. They built the prototype using Adobe Flash CSX and a software development kit to use a text-to-speech conversion program. This allows TROBO to interact with the child, as parents can program their children’s names into the app. In the long term, said Harden, they might change it to have a longer term solution that can work on both iOS and Android and more importantly that can be developed at a reasonable rate by multiple developers, but for the prototype, they wanted to work with something familiar and easily proven.
“We have a technology stack that we put together and at the top of the stack is the user interface layer,” Harden said. “Using a native extension, we get to the iOS layer which is objective C code and C++ code and then after that layer, we have a software development kit or SDK that we’re using to do the text to speech conversion.
“That text-to-speech software development kit or SDK is the other large portion of our tech stack. It’s what makes TROBO talk,” Harden continued. “Then we’ll have other SDKs for accessing the Google Play store or the iOS store. All the hard work is going to be under the hood in the native code.”
TROBO allows children to build their own avatar, include their name in the stories, and participate in interactive puzzles every few pages—a welcome relief from the mindless tech activities usually available. The five included stories will focus on science, nature and engineering, with topics such as “How honey is made,” “What is lightning,” “How does a train work,” and more.
Like most parents, Harden and Scheinberg found their children playing with mindless apps and watching TV more and more. Disappointed with the lack of educational value, Jeremy and Chris set out to create a toy and app that would not only be entertaining and fun, but that they could also feel good about giving to their kids. As engineers in the theme park and gaming industries, they realized there was a lack of quality STEM education available for young children. They put the storytelling ability they learned while working with Disney, Lego and Electronic Arts to use in a fun and engaging way—TROBO was born.
Speaking from experience, kids jump right in. My 4 1/2 year old and 2 year old immediately hugged the prototype of Curie we sampled at the office and were eager to hear the story and read the game. And little did they know they were learning something that might be critical to their future.
Visit TROBO’s Kickstarter page to learn more, donate and purchase one for kids or schools.