Learning to code usually involves sitting in front of a computer, memorizing commands, and carefully checking for syntax errors. But what if instead, coding was colorful, fun, and let you interact with the real world?
That's what Google is trying to do with a new initiative called Project Bloks. Bloks is a system of toy blocks that kids can connect together to control other toys and learn the fundamentals of coding in the process — a bunch of blocks with arrows on them, for instance, could be used to direct a robot. Google's intention is for Bloks to teach the logic behind coding, so that kids can pick up basic skills as they play and later transfer that knowledge to real-world applications.
But Google isn't about to become a toymaker. Rather, Google's plan is to build Bloks as a platform — creating most of the technology and coding behind the toys — and then let partners build kids' toys on top of it. Google's thinking is that by using this model (the Android model, essentially), actual toymakers will have a much easier time building coding products and a wider variety of toys will be put out into the market.
Bloks isn't ready to hit stores just yet, however. Google says that this project is still in development, as a collaboration between Research at Google, Google Creative Lab, the design firm Ideo, and researchers from Stanford and Chiang Mai University. Development began in 2013, and it's being unveiled now so that Google can start gauging developer interest and finding partners who'd want to work on Bloks toys. There's no announced timeline on when the first Bloks toys are expected to go on sale.
Other coding toys are already on sale, but Google's could be far more versatile
Google gives a number of examples for what kind of toys can be made with Bloks, from the robot whose movement you can control, to a speaker you can program to play music, to a lab that lets you program connected sensors to activate other objects, like a real-world IFTTT.
Bloks certainly isn't the first project with the idea of using toys for coding. Other modular products, like this caterpillar from Fisher-Price, have the same goal and a similar execution — and they're already on sale. But Google's hope is that Bloks can go much further. If Bloks really does make coding toys cheaper and easier to make, with varied projects and interchangeable controls in the way that Google is already dreaming up, it could become a powerful toy platform that parents are sure to get to know.