This week’s innovative product development was a delightful surprise: robots developed by Play-i that can teach 5-to-12 year-olds to write computer code.
What were they thinking?
Fast Company reports that by the year 2020, a million more computer programming jobs will be available than there will be people qualified to perform those jobs. It appears that in the U.S., “Only 10% of American high schools even offer the subject, making crucial early training difficult to come by.”
Having established the need, Vikas Gupta, cofounder and CEO of Play-i and former head of consumer payments at Google, moved ahead step-by-step to fill the gap. Here’s how.
Gupta discovered that a number of other countries were training their young people in computer programming. His research showed that children as young as 5 years old can learn to program computers.
The right team
Gupta selected two people with proven track records in innovative product development: Mikal Greaves, Flextronics’s design and development leader for consumer products, and Saurabh Gupta, who led Apple’s iPod software team.
The right tasks
He initially tasked them (and himself as part of the team) with conceiving and producing a system that would make abstract concepts concrete. Children are concrete thinkers.
Another requirement was that the new system be innovative. As Fast Company says, “a survey of the field showed that existing products didn’t work for the youngest among us, were intimidating for the average consumer, and were priced too high to have mass appeal.”
The development process
The team started in February 2013, tirelessly putting ideas and multiple prototypes to the test only to discover that initial modular robots did not pass the innovation test with their child users. Fast Company quotes Gupta as saying, "‘As we moved to a more consolidated robot platform, we designed and tested different parts in parallel: the looks, the physical capabilities, and the interactions with a touch device.’” Finally the testing evolved into the successful robots, Bo and Yana
The start-up resources
Working prototypes were sold via crowdsourcing, beginning just this past October. As a result, not only did the Play-i team surpass its fundraising goals, Play-i already has a large community of believers/supporters out in the marketplace. New customers can plan to take delivery of Bo or Yana in the summer of 2014.
The innovation lessons
- Do the homework: will there be a need for your product? Is it user-friendly?
- Assemble the right team: the right experience counts, including experience in innovation.
- Identify the right tasks to start with, and take it step-by-step; no shortcuts.
- Test and test again until it really works.
- Finally, build up adequate capital resources to launch the product.