Primo

Primo is a toy for children, it is composed by a board, a car and a set of instruction-blocks all made out of wood. By placing the instructions on the board and pressing the red button, the car starts to execute the commands. The purpose of this toy is to teach the high-level abstraction of programming as a sequence of instructions at very young children (five and six years old were able to use it). They are in fact controlling a "machine" by giving it a set of instructions in order to solve levels. The purpose of the game is indeed to get the car home avoiding physical obstacles on the floor.

There is already a noteworthy number of on-screen tools which aim is to teach programming logic to children; the main inspiration for Primo as a matter of fact came from a milestone in this field that is the Logo turtle. When i was in middle school I used it a lot, but if you're a kid of 2012 is more likely that you'll be using Scratch or LEGO Mindstorm. The challenge with Primo was to create an appealing game that although it doesn't have a screen, it could be used for this purpose. For the game part, after talking with a kindergarten teacher, came out that the most appealing games in his school were the difficult ones, where the challenge was evident. In this phase of the growth kids develop abilities very quickly and they keep testing themselves by playing. Another key aspect for a successful game is how it is able to involve most of the five human senses. For that most of the toys in the school were made out of wood, a very warm and natural material, it makes a nice sound and feels good in your hands. This is one of the reasons why wood has been chosen as material, the other one is because of the contrast that it makes with circuits and electronics.

Primo was developed during the Master of Advanced Studies in Interaction Design at SUPSI Lugano. Technically speaking the board works as a voltage divider, in each different instruction-block there is a different resistor connected to the analog input of an Arduino Mega. The board then communicates with the car via radio using two XBees. For the car I have been very lucky to put my hands on an Oh_Oh board, provided by David Cuartielles, who designed it for the children of Faro de Oriente spaces in Mexico and is basically a car-shaped Arduino with DC motors.