LAS VEGAS – If you live in the US, chances are you’ve heard about our growing skills gap. Only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a career involving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Only 30 percent of high school seniors who took the ACT test were cleared for college-level sciences.
Experts say robots offer an engaging way to introduce kids to STEM, and the younger kids, start the better. There are many effective robot toys and kits out there that introduce STEM concepts to kids, but most, if not all, lack the personality that truly connects with the child.
Not anymore. WowWee Robotics and Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, are co-developing the Elmoji Coding Robot. Designed for children three years and older, Elmoji teaches children basic programming skills using the “language” of visual emojis.
Elmoji, an abbreviation for Elmo and his Emoji friends, uses a free app guides early readers and pre-readers to test their problem-solving skills and play games that control Elmoji’s actions. Elmoji also reacts to physical stimulation such as tilting and shaking, with dynamic sounds and thousands of animations on his LCD screen.
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Elmoji made its debut at CES Unveiled in Las Vegas, and Matt Wight, art director at WowWee, says Elmoji is expected to ship in either Q3 or Q4 of 2017. Elmoji looks and works much like WowWee’s Coji coding robot.
“Elmoji won’t teach kids how to build a robot that can open doors,” Wight says. “But it will introduce them to STEM skills and a programmatic way of thinking.”
A 2015 study found that kids who watch “Sesame Street” do better in elementary school. In fact, the study said “Sesame Street” may be the biggest and most affordable early childhood intervention out there, at a cost of just a few dollars per child per year. So coding robots and Sesame Street characters make a perfect combo.
It’s important to note, however, the WowWee-Sesame Workshop relationship is in the early stages. The contract isn’t even finalized, although Wight says it should be in the next couple weeks, and Elmoji is still a working name.
“Sesame Workshop is on board, we’re on board, so it’s just a matter of finishing the paperwork,” says Wight.
Sesame Workshop approached WowWee about working together about a year ago. Elmoji has been in development for two months, Wight says, so many aspects of what we saw at CES Unveiled will be tweaked. In fact, Elmoji is still a working name for the coding robot, but it could very well stick.
As for why Elmo was chosen as the character for the coding robot, Wight simply says, “Elmo is Sesame Street’s most popular character.” My 3-year-old daughter would certainly agree with that statement, but surely she wouldn’t mind “Cookmoji” or “Abbmoji” coding robots. This is the first partnership of its kind for both Sesame Workshop and WowWee, but if all goes well, something tells me we’ll see other Sesame Street-themed coding robots from WowWee in the future.