It’s always better to give than receive, as long as the gift is useful.
This year we spotlight the tools and toys that balance fun and utility.
oliday H 2018 NED
by John Hitch
Even if you don’t have kids yourself, you’ve no doubt noticed how young children compul- sively watch the same shows and movies ad nauseam. Somehow they never get sick of them, even though parents quickly do. In my
female-dominated house, we went through the requisite
Frozen phase and Trolls phase with my two youngest girls,
buying the toys and clothes to go along with the obsession.
Then earlier this year, I found Iron Giant on Netflix and
something wonderful happened: My daughters became
equally crazy about the classic boy-and-his-robot tale. It’s
great because not only is the movie much more palatable
to my sensibilities (and lacks annoying musical numbers),
but it also represents an important part of their future.
My job is to write about that future—and automation
plays a lead role in it. By the time my two-year-old starts
school in 2022, the World Economic Forum predicts
the robot revolution will have created 133 million new
jobs and displaced 75 million. By 2025, machines will
perform half of all current workplace tasks. Several new
studies on the subject come out monthly, with varying
numbers, but the prevailing theory is that the next generation of workers (and all those after) will need a firm
grasp on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math
(STEM) principles to succeed. And my real job, after all,
is to prepare my girls for success.
It’s not going to be easy, as girls of even tech-savvy
dads in 2018 inherit the “science-is-for-boys” stigma
carried by their foremothers, which has contributed to
the majority gender having grossly inadequate represen-
(for a Lucrative Career in Robotics)
tation in high paying STEM fields. The U.S. Department
of Commerce says women with STEM jobs make a third
more than women in non-STEM fields. This could widen
even further as more jobs accrue a STEM component
as they become more automated. The problem is that
in 2013, females comprised only 12% of engineers and
about a quarter of computer professionals.
My kids’ interest—and constant reciting of the Iron
Giant lines—indicates they are off to a good head start.
The movie itself involves programming (and overcoming
the protocols that make it a weapon), machine learning
(the boy Hogarth teaching it to talk and act human), and
even M2M communication (its scattered parts return to
repair the robot). It’s a subtle technical indoctrination
into robotics that research shows should carry over to
their formal education.
Of course, you can’t just turn on one movie and the
problem is solved. Young minds are sponges, ready to sop
up whatever you put in front of them. Now that they have
as much interest in robots as they do Disney princesses,
the next step is to get them to play with robots as much
or more than their Elsa and Ariel dolls.
Earlier in the year, Learning Resources, based in a
suburb north of Chicago, reached out to me and asked
me to review their award-winning Botley the Coding Robot
($45-$80). It’s designed for ages 5+, but the controller
is simple and durable enough for even younger kids
Currently, Botley has an immaculate rating on learn-ingresources.com, with 176 of 225 reviewers giving it 5
stars. After using it I can see why. It’s colorful, has big
eyes, and beeps and boops like their other electronic
toys, but instead of simply being another remote control
toy, it uses a remedial programming language based on
plugging in directional commands (forward, back, left and
right) and executing the order with the big green button.
Hamilton Buhl’s 4-Axis
STEAM Robo-Arm Kit