Last week we were given a stark reminder of just how far the toy industry has to go in making great toys for girls that promote engineering, in the form of this Barbie travesty. Here's a nice antidote from a UX design firm called Slice of Lime: Nübi, a connected toy prototype that aims to teach basic programming skills to kids of any gender.
At the Chicago Toy & Game Fair this weekend, Nübi was named one of the winners of the DevelopHer challenge, a design competition for toys "focused on girls ages 3-12 in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)." Its creator, Slice of Lime CEO Kevin Menzie, describes Nübi as a connected toy that takes the form of an alien who just arrived on Earth and needs to be taught about everything, from colours to music to the weather.
Inside this 'lil bot — based on KidRobot's existing Munny figures — is a cadre of sensors that enable Nübi to communicate, like an RFID chip, speaker, and radio transmitter, along with ones that allow it to take stock of the world around it, like a motion detector, temperature and light sensor, and more. Kids use an accompanying magic wand, equipped with an Arduino-controlled RFID reader, to talk to the doll.
The "words" they use to communicate take the form of circular cards with things like colours and musical notes. Let's say you want to teach Nübi about colour. You press the wand against a colour card, then touch it to Nübi's flower. An LED in its stomach glows with the colour you chose. If you tap the wand on two colours in succession, Nübi will glow with the colour they make when they're mixed.
But there are also more sophisticated cards, which are printed with conditional statements that allow kids to create "if, then" recipes. Using the IFTTT recipe cards, older kids can program Nübi to carry out a number of different actions. For example, they could teach it to glow blue when it's cold, or sing a song when the light goes out.
It's very basic programming, translated into tangible, tactile toys. Can it bridge the vast gap between the number of boy-targeted toys that teach programming versus those that are aimed at girls? Probably not — but it's another step down the road that other girl-oriented STEM toys, like GoldieBlox, have paved over the last few years. The design team is hoping to licence the technology out to a company that wants to produce Nübi, but until then, it's just a prototype. You can check out the rest of the winners here.