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Project Bloks

Project Bloks | Google | Google Creative Lab
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Industry: Internet sites & Services
Media:Design & Branding
Market:United Kingdom
Style: Minimalism

Recently a few tangible programming products (e.g. Cubetto, Littlebits) have come to market that help kids learn to code. So how could we help developers and designers create even more of them? The issue is that for most designers, the technical and financial barriers are still too high to create these products – holding back the widespread innovation and adoption of tangible programming products in education.They have to build them from scratch each time, with single-purpose, proprietary, and often expensive designs that can’t communicate with one another. Put simply: they’re wasting time and money developing the technical infrastructure, instead of innovating and developing educational design. So we set out to make sure they didn’t have to, by creating a versatile and open hardware and software platform any designer could use to create tangible programming products. So they can invent new and creative ways for children to learn to code.

The Bloks platform is flexible and modular so designers can easily experiment and build tangible programming products with it. It has three main components:Pucks: tiles that can be made out of any material and programmed with different instructions (e.g. turn on/off, move left, play music). They can have different forms and interactivity.Base Boards: modular blocks that house the pucks. Putting them together in different configurations creates different sets of instructions. Contain feedback systems: lights and haptics.Brain Board: a single block that connects to the Base Boards, reading their instructions and executing that program. It contains a Raspberry Pi microcomputer and provides power and connectivity. Using the modularity of the boards, designers can experiment with form factors, and ‘wrap’ the boards with different materials. They then connect to a device they want to control and write a basic program to translate commands from the platform to that device.Then they simply create the pucks corresponding to those commands. The universality of the pucks system means designers can create any command they like, rather than being locked to a specific set of commands.We launched at ISTE 2016 - recognized as the world’s most comprehensive educational technology conference.

Since announcement there have been 30,000 registrations of interest in the project from educators, toy manufacturers, makers and parents. The project also generated global interest, resulting in more than 600 international press articles and 750,000 views of the project's announcement videos.

Learning to code teaches kids a set of problem-solving skills that are just as important as reading or writing. Learning them today will help them succeed in the world tomorrow. However, traditional methods of learning to code usually involve a computer - a device ultimately built for adults to do work on alone, not for children to learn with.Kids love exploring the world with their hands - pushing things, twisting them. It’s how they naturally learn. That’s why tangible programming - making code physical, so kids can play with it - was first experimented with 40 years ago as an alternative to screen-based programming.But it was an idea before its time. Only recent technological innovations have made the creation of tangibles more possible. Our objective was to spur on the creation of tangible programming products for kids, and promote innovation in the field.

We did extensive research, from Seymour Papert’s experiments in tangible programming during the Seventies, right up to recent tangible programming products. It became clear that what was needed was an environment that makes it easier for designers to create tangibles. Having investigated what the most flexible and modular environment could be, we started designing a system with open-frame electronics and an API, so designers and developers could access the interactive features of the boards, and program them with their requirements. We also made sure the boards had a minimal form-footprint, so developers could easily insert them into new designs. And ensured the cost of components were low, so as many people as possible could use the platform.To lock a feature set that was flexible and cost-effective, we created three iterations of prototypes, resulting in our final platform of 3 components: the Brain Board, the Base Boards, and pucks.
Production Company:
Other credit:Creative Agency: Google Creative Lab
Product design: IDEO & Google Creative Lab
Hardware design: OLogic Inc.
Software development: RRD Labs
Consultant: Blikstein Comunicações e Planejamento
Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2017
Shortlist Product Design
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