New Robot Programming App for Children with Special Needs

Introducing an accessible robot app by Zyrobotics, designed to teach children with special needs how to program robots. Kids today are surrounded by technology – from their game consoles to their music players to their mobile phones. By teaching kids how to program, we show them how to become an active part in defining the new technological world we live in. Programming is a creative and challenging occupation that provides immediate feedback, is highly suited to satisfy a child’s natural curiosity, and can make math and science enjoyable to learn. Zyrobotics has always been focused on making all aspects of learning fun and accessible to all. Although typical programming interfaces are not designed to be accessible to children with disabilities, over the last few years, we have conducted workshops that encourage kids with special needs to program Mindstorm robots.

Lego Mindstorms® is a line of Lego that combines programmable “brains” with electric motors, sensors, and Lego pieces (such as gears, axles, and beams). Based on lessons-learned for engaging children in robotics, our current switch-accessible tablet App, Accessible NXT, enables a child to initiate basic robot movement commands (forward, backward, left, right) with the Lego Mindstorms® in order to begin understanding the concept of sequences, the first step in programming a robot. A switch-accessible app enables children who have severe motor impairments and use a switch to activate or operate toys, computers, communication devices, etc. to engage with the robot in the same way as all kids.

The goal of the software app is to provide opportunities the make robot programming accessible to all children. Teachers and parents can adjust various parameters, such as the speed of the robot or the accessibility options, thus ensuring both confidence and competency by being able to start on the child’s functional level. Key features of Accessible NXT include:

  • Robot settings can be adjusted based on the abilities of the child
  • Switch accessible for children with motor limitations
  • Children can use either touch or an external switch (connected through a Bluetooth switch interface such as TabAccess)
  • Interface is simplified to address the needs of sensory sensitive kids or for kids that are easily distracted, such as children with Autism or attention deficit disorder

As a start to our educational initiative focused on accessible science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), we are making our Accessible NXT app available for Free. Download the app through the Google Play store and like us to get updates on our upcoming accessible math app, now in development.

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