Forget teaching your kid a second language. Now children all over the world increasingly are learning the language that powers tech innovations.
But it's hard to teach 8-year-olds basic coding, let alone programming for the world of robotics. That's why one company, Wonder Workshop, has set out to make teaching computer science and robotics as easy as finger painting. Its first two products, Dash and Dot, are playful interactive robots that teach kids how to write computer programs through an accompanying app.
Vikas Gupta, the founder of Wonder Workshop, stopped by Inc. to demo Dash and Dot and tell his story. In the video above, he talks about how he made it from India to Silicon Valley to build two of the best-selling robots on Amazon.
Gupta, who was born in Chandigarh, India, taught himself to code while in high school in the late 1980s. After immigrating to the U.S. in the '90s to attend college, he led Amazon's payments and web services teams. He quit Amazon to build a company called Jambool, a virtual currency platform that he sold to Google. He also took a position with the search giant, but in 2012 after his daughter was born, he and his wife quit their jobs to travel around the world.
On the six-month trip, Gupta asked himself what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. While he hiked up a mountain with his daughter on his back, he realized he didn't want to give up these moments with his family unless the work actually mattered.
"I had an epiphany in this brief moment," he says. "I adopted a mission to make the world better for kids."
Gupta says coding enabled him to build a life for his family, but he was troubled by the lack of emphasis on tech skills in his adopted country.
"High school kids in Vietnam were cracking Google interview questions because of the focus on STEM. But the U.S. is so behind, [which] became the motivation for me to help change" things, Gupta says.
This combination of inspirations gave rise to the idea for Dash and Dot. In 2013, Gupta launched the project through Kickstarter. At the time, it was the largest crowdfunding campaign in robotics, raising $1.5 million. Flush with cash and consumer interest, Gupta started shipping Dash and Dot late last year.
"We were constantly at work to make robots come to life in the hands of a child," he says. "We wanted to create an experience that feels both intuitive and magical."
Since formally launching, Wonder Workshop has raised a total of $17.3 million from the likes of CRV, Google Ventures, Madrona Venture Group, and WI Harper Group, and has as sold tens of thousands of robots through its website, the Apple Store, and Amazon. Dash and Dot are sold individually, or together as a set for $200. The app is free.
Hundreds of elementary schools across the U.S. have adopted Dash and Dot into their curriculums to help kids get an early grasp on computer science and robotics. If you want kids to learn to code by the time they're in the early grades, Gupta says, hands-on play with an approachable, friendly robot is the best way to teach them.
"The industry has made robotics very aggressive and intimidating [and] very difficult to use, and as a result most robots only appeal to a small audience of mostly older men or boys. We wanted to make something that every child, every family, could use at 7 or 8 years old," he says.
Gupta has released a series of apps that help kids program the robots to perform a range of actions including singing a song, dancing, and roaming around the room. The latest app, released early this month, features a new visual programming language called Wonder. It's set up like a video game, where kids advance through easy tasks and storylines in the beginning and then graduate to more complex lessons.
"If you engage children, learning will happen automatically," he says. "Every aspect of Dash and Dot is a challenge, a puzzle, to learn something new."