Google is also looking to throw its hat in the ring with a new open hardware platform called Project Bloks. It uses physical blocks, err, bloks, which represent simple commands such as up, down, turn 180 degrees, on and off. You can also have a variety of sliders, dials or timers to further modify commands. These bloks can be linked together to carry out simple or elaborate actions.
Project Bloks Brain Board
“The Project Bloks system enables educators and makers to create new tangible programming languages without having to deal with low-level technical details,” writes the Google team. “We should make it easy for novices to get started, but possible to build complex and diverse creations once children’s confidence develops—the tool grows with the child as opposed to being a disposable one-off design. That’s how Project Bloks was born.”
Project Bloks Base Board
The Brain Board is obviously the command center of the whole operation. Within this unit, you’ll find a Raspberry Pi Zero which not only serves as the central processing unit for the whole operation, but also powers the rest of the connected pieces. You can than add multiple Base Boards and complementary Pucks to the Brain Board. The Base Board directly interfaces with the Brain Board (and other Base Boards), while the Puck sits atop each Base Board. The actual Puck is what makes up the programming language that Google is promoting.
Project Bloks Pucks
Pucks use an inexpensive capacitive ID system which negates the new or active electrical components. Using various materials — even materials that children themselves can construct — new Pucks can be created allowing for an endless array of programming possibilities. And even if a child travels down the wrong path, creating an error in their physical “code”, there Project Bloks provides them with a quick and easy way to identify their mistakes.
“For example, blocks blink red when there is an error that will prevent compiling and green when they are being executed,” the team continues. “We observed that the children found the problematic block within seconds, and also understood, conceptually, the difference between a compilation and a runtime error. They also immediately developed a productive routine of observing the code and the robot with ‘debugging eyes’.”
Google is currently asking for input from teachers, researchers and parents to help launch field tests later this year.