Brett Pipitone is telling me about his company’s main product, the mimicArm educational robot: “The student can feel that the robot is gripping. That’s important in some surprising ways: mainly, it becomes much less frustrating when you can feel what you’re doing, it’s much more intuitive and easier.”
He’s describing the feedback mechanism in the manual version of mimicArm, but it could also stand in for his company’s philosophy. Mimic Educational Robots are seeking to fill a niche in the code education environment. Hundreds of “teach kids to code” video games and video series have flooded the educational market. Pipitone is trying to reach kids that are mechanically inclined, but less likely to embrace screen-based learning. “There are a lot of kids out there who’ve got to see something in the real world,” he tells me. He’s creating educational tools that are, “more tangible, and designed to capture kids that are intimidated or uninterested in the computer.”
Whether or not the strategy works, a robust coding and robotics training program is needed now more than ever. Digital technology is growing faster than any educator can keep up with. What’s new now didn’t exist when even the youngest teachers were still in college. Moreover, teachers have to deal with a small, shrinking pool of support and resources.
Pipitone hopes mimicArm can be the tool that helps teachers navigate this fraught environment. Beyond being a tactile way to teach coding, it’s cute. It comes in bright, see-through neon colors and with big, white googly eyes.
Many of us have felt the need to learn coding. “I’ve got to learn how to code” is as common a refrain in careers as “I’ve got to learn Photoshop” or “I need to learn a new language.” Becoming comfortable with technology and, what’s more, taking full advantage of technological advances, will require a new type of teacher and a new class of tools. Pipitone and multiple versions of mimicArm will be at Cincinnati Mini Maker Faire this weekend, on September 15 and 16, with ideas on how to create those new tools.