Root is a robot which makes coding easier for everyone

In a not so distant future our kids will be able to express their ideas through some form of coding without much difficulty. This will be possible thanks to projects like Root, a robot which can help anyone learn how to code regardless of age and background. Simply pair it with an iPad and start your programming journey. The robot is packed with sensors and can even drive on whiteboards.

Root robot drawing a fractal

Root robot drawing a fractal | Image credit: Scansorial

The project was born at the Wyss Institute, a technology incubator at Harvard University, and brought to life by a highly skilled team whose members have many well-known consumer products and services under their belt. They have rich experience in creating coding robots such as the iRobot Create, Multiplo, AERobot or Kilobot. Earlier this year they founded Scansorial, a public benefit corporation headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a mission to make programming more accessible for everyone.

What can Root do?

Root is a modern-day interpretation of the turtle robot concept. It is a powerful STEM education tool with the ability to make the whole coding experience highly interactive and entertaining. The robot can draw, erase, play music and autonomously explore the environment thanks to its hefty array of sensors. It integrates a set of magnets which allow for driving on vertical metallic surfaces such as whiteboards, a feature extremely useful in classrooms which doubles as a very cool party trick.

The Root robot comes fully assembled out of the box so you can start coding and playing right away. All you need is an iPad to establish a connection over Bluetooth LE. Also make sure you have a few markers at hand.

There is virtually no limit on the number of games and activities you can create with Root. Simply remote control it and observe sensor readings from your iPad, or design more complex obstacle escaping sequences, identify colors and behave accordingly, create precise drawings, detect ambient lighting and many many more.

Coding with Root

The Root Square app is the starting point for the whole experience. It guides you through the entire learning process with three levels of coding complexity.

Level 1 presents of course a graphical programming environment. At this point you can understand the basic concepts of coding and create simple if-then statements with colorful and intuitive program blocks.

Level 2 further refines previously introduced concepts and introduces advanced flow control statements as well as working with variables, operators, sensor readings, recursion and parallelism.

Level 3 introduces text-based programming with Python, JavaScript and Swift. All programs previously created can be converted to instructions and refined in every detail.

The app will be available at launch for the iPad while Swift Playgrounds workbooks will be made available soon after. There will also be a limited level 1 version available for the iPhone.

Bluetooth LE Android devices will also be supported after launch and there are plans for Chromebook support as well.

PC and Mac users have not been left out, a SDK will be available at launch for programming in Python and JavaScript. An API will also be released at a later date so you can create and connect any platform to the Root robot.

Root quick specs

  • Dimensions and weight: 152x137x43mm, 500g approx.
  • Communication: Bluetooth LE;
  • Sensors, actuators and outputs:
    • 32 color sensor array;
    • 2 bumpers sensors;
    • 4 touch areas;
    • 2 ambient light sensors;
    • 4 magnetic surface sensors;
    • 6-axis IMU with gyroscope and accelerometer;
    • 2 drive motors with wheel encoders;
    • 18 RGB LED array;
    • Piezo speaker;
    • Marker lift-drop actuator;
    • Eraser lift-drop actuator;
    • Battery level meter.
  • Connectors: USB type-C for accessories and charging, charging contacts;
  • Battery: Rechargeable Li-Ion with 3-hour continous run time;
  • Software and programming: Root Square iOS app, SDK for Python and JS. Planned API and support for Android and Chromebook.
Root robot

Root robot | Image credit: Scansorial

Let’s take a look at a few more photos of Root.

You can preorder your very own Root robot kit from the campaign page. At the time of writing for a minimum price of US $175 you can buy a kit containing the robot and a charging cable, the app and access to digital lessons and activities. The standard price is $195.

Several multiple robot packages are available for schools and educators. Shipping will start in Summer 2017, head to their website for more information.