His young son’s fascination with his smartphone has lead developer Raul Gutierrez to create a new app that uses kid’s obsessions with mobile devices to teach them about coding.
“He’d call it the everything machine,” says Gutierrez, founder of childrens’ app company Tinybop. “Because to him it could do everything.” The kid was onto something. A smartphone really is an everything machine. It’s a phone, a camera, a movie screen, and so much more, stuffed into a glassy rectangle that fits in your pocket.
The new “Everything Machine” app is $2.99, and is available in the iOS App Store. The app breaks down a device’s components, such as the camera, display, microphone, and the like, into kid friendly illustrations. A basic visual programming language allows users to drag-and-drop to connect various components to create new virtual machines.
“Every machine starts with a battery. From there, kids add to it by dragging and dropping controls (toggles, buttons, timers) or detectors (light, motion, or sound, for instance) that trigger inputs like a camera, microphone or sound recorder. If you want to alter that data, you can turn photos into kaleidoscopic images or alter the pitch of recording by dragging and dropping modifiers onto your screen. Outputs allow you to save photos, recordings or motion to your device or activate things like your phone’s flashlight or vibration mode. The components are connected by a dashed line that indicates the path along which each will be activated.”
The app uses cause and effect logic to teach kids programming principles, teaching the same basic skills that can be learned in computer science classes.
“Programming is essentially stringing together these parts of a machine,” Gutierrez told Wired. “So if you have something coming in on one side and something coming in on the other side and both are turned on, the signal will go through the gate,” he explains. “That’s normally not taught until high school.”
The app works to make programming accessible to children by making it tangible. The idea seems to be valid. The Verge reports one child used the app to use the phone’s motion sensor to detect kids when they walked into a classroom. The app then took a photo of the subject, and added one to a counter to tally attendance.
Gutierrez assures children that the app is also an ideal tool for pranks, a favorite of most kids.
His kids, for example, programmed the phone to become a light detector and hid it in a dark closet. Whenever someone opened the closet, the light detector triggered a video of someone screaming. And of course there’s always the old standby. “It also makes an incredible fart machine,” Gutierrez says with a laugh.
The Everything Machine is available for $2.99 in the iOS App Store for the iPhone and iPad. [GET IT HERE]