CES 2018: An Adventure Through Today’s New Tech for Learning

Having spent my career in the education technology space, I never had the chance to attend CES, the famed Consumer Electronics Show. So when Living in Digital Times asked me to moderate a panel as part of their Kids@Play program, my response was “Yes!” How exciting! Yes, I wanted to be there and have the chance to experience this conference. Representing EdTech Times in such an environment was an honor. So, Living in Digital Times recruited speakers for the panel and then the adventure began.

In the weeks leading up to CES, I met with my panelists one by one — two robot developers, a screenless tablet game developer, and a developer of a connected toothbrush. Their technologies all focused on learning, whether it was school-based, formal learning or home-based, informal learning. As we prepared for CES, I learned about the dreams that were the genesis of each project, the friends and family that played a role in their development, and the impact that each developer hoped their technology would have on young learners around the world.

After some travel hiccups (heavy rains, which would later cause a blackout at the Las Vegas Convention Center, delayed my flight), I arrived at CES, and we presented our panel at the Venetian on Wednesday, January 10.

Here are the details of the panelists and what they shared:

Michael Blaustein is the product manager for Botley, a screenless programmable robot by Learning Resources®. Michael has a background in technology and has worked with Learning Resources for over twelve years. Botley is designed for early learners (up to 8 years old) to use at home or in the classroom. Children can code BOTLEY to move and go through obstacle courses. What the child is learning while they play is basic sequence coding, which can evolve into loop coding or sensor if then logic. Michael shared that the big impact Learning Resources hopes for is to provide young learners with an introduction to computer science. Michael sees coding as a 21st century skill, a new literacy that everyone needs to possess.

Zee Dubrovsky, CEO of Massachusetts-based Root Robotics, brought his programmable robot to CES, too. Previously, Zee worked with iRobot and Sonos and was head of robotics at Harvard’s Wyss Institute. His product idea began when he visited his daughter’s school and asked how they were teaching computer science. Not satisfied with the response, Zee decided to develop a solution. That solution was the beginning of Root Robotics.

Root, the programmable robot, is designed to write and draw. Kids as young as four can code Root without knowing how to read. There are two additional levels (for kids up to 18+) that use a tablet. Currently, the tech is being piloted in 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms. Teachers, many of whom are learning right alongside their students, instruct the students to code sequencing and loops, event and action relationships.

Zee believes strongly that computer science and coding are a new literacy that should sit alongside traditional core curriculum. Having a platform where students and teachers can build out this form of literacy year over year could provide the consistency that is now lacking in existing computer science programs.

Root Robotics won the Best Toy Award from TechRadar in 2018.

Thomas Serval, CEO of Kolibree, is a well-known figure in the connected device space. Scolded about his children’s dental habits by his dentist and future business partner, Thomas developed a connected toothbrush that provides an educational gaming experience. Kolibree helps children establish positive habits like brushing their teeth consistently and for sufficient amounts of time to maintain their oral health. The latest version from Kolibree has augmented reality features and is the first toothbrush of its kind for kids. With close correlations between dental and overall health, establishing good habits for dental hygiene is a key skill for young learners to acquire.

Kolibree won a CES Innovation Award in 2017 and 2018.

John Shi, CEO of Beyond Screen, has a background in software, science and consulting. This includes founding and running the Appeon Corporation, an app development company, and Arreon Carbon, a Beijing-based clean energy company and the world’s largest carbon offtaker.

As a father, John grew concerned when his children started spending more time alone in front of a screen than engaging in play with the family. To explore solutions to this issue, John created Beyond Tablet, a screenless gaming experience similar to a board game but with digital enhancements. The system has a number of different games: some games teach math skills and strategy, while others focus on music. Beyond Tablet is currently being tested with young children in classrooms. John hopes that the screenless experience will facilitate more collaborative play and interpersonal communication among young children and families.

Beyond Tablet won a CES Innovation Award in 2017.

It was very cool listening to these panelists speak about how their technologies could positively impact young children around the world. Living in Digital Times put on an exciting program, featuring Sophia the Robot from Hanson Robotics and other innovative technologies, and topped off by their KAPI (Kids At Play Interactive) Awards Show.

The following day, I visited some of the amazing booths that colleges and universities brought to CES. Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll share podcast interviews with students, faculty and administrators all sharing their innovations at one of the biggest technology conferences in the world!

Hester Tinti-Kane

Hester Tinti-Kane

Hester Tinti-Kane is the CEO of EdTech Times. She's worked in digital media and education for over 10 years. Hester is passionate about transformative technology in education and business.