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June 10, 2014      

The latest bid to teach robotics to pre-schoolers is gaining momentum – and funding.

KIBO, from KinderLab Robotics, is a programming kit made up of, among other things, wooden blocks. It’s intended for kids ages 4 to 7, its two co-founders say – and they’re not the only two people who believe in the concept. They’ve gained financial backing from family and friends, a government agency and, most recently, the worldwide marketplace via Kickstarter.

KIBO is based on more than 15 years of research in learning technologies and child development.

Gizmag explains how KIBO works: “A standard KIBO base has one motor for each of its two wheels, while a deluxe model gets a third motor on top that rotates a platform. All of the electronics of the battery-powered unit are housed in transparent plastic and are visible to the young robot builder. Each kit comes with colored wooden blocks sporting pictures, simple programming instructions and bar codes, which are put together in a sequence before being scanned into an optical reader to the front of KIBO’s base to instruct the robot what actions to take, and in what order.”

The Kickstarter bid has garnered to date nearly $30,000 of its $50,000 goal, with almost three weeks left to go.

Marina Bers’ lab, where KIBO was ”born,” got $180,000 from the National Science Foundation, and the fledgling company received an undisclosed amount from a collection of private backers, according to the Boston Business Journal. In the Kickstarter promotional video, CEO Mitch Rosenberg says that the company itself has won funding from the Small Business Innovation Research program of the Small Business Administration.

Rosenberg was formerly in charge of marketing at RBR50 company Rethink Robotics, which developed and sells the Baxter industrial robot. and with Kiva Systems of North Reading, Mass., before that.

Bers, whose title with her year-old company is Chief Scientist, runs the Developmental Technologies Research Group at Tufts University in the Boston suburbs of Medford and Somerville.

They both hold degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University.

KinderLab is based in Arlington, Mass., a Boston suburb that is no stranger to tech types. Just one community to the west, in Lexington, is the home base of Empow Studios, which runs classes in robotics, computer programming and the like for children through eighth grade. And just up the road northwest from there is Einstein’s Workshop, in Burlington, which is similar but larger, serves children of all ages, and their parents, and includes 3D printing and art into its mix of offerings.

As the video below mentions, what distinguishes KIBO from some of its competitors is that it manifests in a low-tech, age-appropriate way, with no use of computers, tablets, cellphones or screens.