Google, in collaboration with design firm IDEO and a researcher from Stanford University, are collaborating on an effort dubbed Project Bloks that is designed to get kids started on programming at a very young age.
The project is inspired by previous and long-standing academic work and research in the area of so-called tangible programming—in which children learn basic programming concepts by manipulating physical objects like wooden blocks.
One early example of such work is Tern, a tangible programming language developed several years ago by a graduate student at Tufts University that gave children a way to build basic programs by connecting a set of interlocking blocks together.
Each of the blocks represented a specific programming instruction like 'start', 'stop', 'turn' or 'move left,' which when put together created a set of basic instructions for a robot to follow.
Google's Project Bloks seeks to build on such research by creating what it described on its Research Blog as an open hardware platform that will give designers, developers, educators and others a way to build "physical coding experiences" for children.
As a first step in this direction, the company has built a working prototype of a system for tangible programming consisting of three components—a "Brain Board," "Base Boards" and programmable "Pucks".
Google's pucks function like the blocks in Tern. Each puck can be programmed with a different function and be placed on the Base Board, which then reads the instruction or instructions on the puck via a capacitive sensor, the company said.
Multiple Base Boards can be connected together in different configurations to create various programs. When the Brain Board is attached to the connected Base Boards it reads the instructions contained in each board and sends it via Bluetooth or WiFi to connected devices such as robots or toys, which then execute the instructions.
"As a whole, the Project Bloks system can take on different form factors and be made out of different materials," Steve Vranakis and Jayme Goldstein, two members of Google's Creative Lab said in the Research Blog.
For instance, a puck can be devised out of nothing but a sheet of paper and some conductive ink, according to the two Google researchers.
"This means developers have the flexibility to create diverse experiences that can help kids develop computational thinking—from composing music by using simple functions to playing around with sensors or anything else they care to invent," they said.
Working with IDEO, Google has developed a Coding Kit, which is a sort of proof-of-concept system for developers to use as a reference.
Project Bloks is one of two initiatives that Google announced this week pertaining to children and education. The other is a partnership with digital education company TES Global.
Under the effort, Google for Education has set up a new portal on the tes.com Website that will let teachers learn how to use Google Expeditions' virtual reality tours in the classroom. The arrangement with TES will give teachers a way to more easily find and share lessons that are compatible with Google Apps for Education and access free training on Google tools, TES said in a statement.