Raise your hand if as a young child you would sneak out to the garage, grab hold of your dad’s tool box and start to saw a random piece of wood in half. Say “I” if you were one of the generation that loved to hammer nails into arbitrary pieces of material, attach them together with garden twine and present your newly-created “lazer-enabled super sonic computer”, complete with phone, added satellite functionality and booby-trap features to your mom? It didn’t do anything but it looked cool!
Did you ever have a Commodore 64 or an Amstrad? Were you like me who sat and wondered how it worked, while you waited for 30 minutes for Bubble Bobble to load the magic tape? Did you ever try to upgrade your computer, using complicated programming constructs and expensive peripherals? That was the old way.
- Recommended Age: 9 to 14
- Global Shipping?: Yes (3-7 days)
- Best Place to Buy: playpiper.com
- My rating: 4.75 out of 5
Kids Computer Building Kits – A New Direction
Today, sleek touchscreen devices are everywhere. Our kids don’t have a second thought about what is actually behind the screen, and how these devices actually work. The Piper is a “toolbox” that lets anyone create real gadgets and real electronics while playing Minecraft! The engineers and developers behind the product believe that kids needed a more engaging way to play with technology and that by restricting them to these “closed black box” devices of today, we are denying them the opportunity to develop their curiosity about what’s underneath the hood. Fostering a growth-mindset, the Piper helps develop knowledge of parallel circuitry, mockup breadboarding, problem-solving and critical thinking. By encouraging children to discover, tinker and explore in the physical space, they will ultimately become creators rather than mere consumers of technology. In a fun and engaging way! Oh, and no nails are required!!!!
Piper is a beautifully engraved toolbox that kids can customise and assemble themselves. Once turned on, your child is immersed in playing a Minecraft story-based adventure. The storyline revolves around a stranded robot who needs mission control (your child) to build controls and power-ups that allow him to navigate and return safely to earth. Kids build with their hands on a physical breadboard-like frame. Feedback is instantly received in the game so kids recognise when they’ve engineered the wired-up correctly. Proximity sensors must be constructed with lights in order to help your robot discover diamonds. Hidden doors will be opened by adding physical switches to the electronic set-up. Through the process of building the kit, the controllers and the power-ups, Piper in a way becomes uniquely yours; something that you created yourself.
The Piper Kids Computer Building Kit looks pretty awesome! I love the packaging, designed to resemble a Minecraft crafting table, while the logo becomes animated as the contents are removed. Power is provided via a battery that itself has USB connectivity for charging. The updated Piper, released in early 2016 now comes with a WiFi- and Bluetooth-enabled Raspberry Pi 3. In terms of operating system, it runs on a version of Raspbian and can be updated just like any other Pi running that OS. You can also do any of the projects on the Raspberry Pi Foundation site without worry if that tickles your fancy. The battery turns on with a simple click and extra supplementary buttons have been added to the inventory. In addition, all wires are now color-coded to make attaching to peripherals more intuitive – a clever move by the designers! Speakers, circuit boards, LCD screens, Oh My!
One of the downfalls of this product (yes, there are some) is that the screen can drain the battery quite quickly. Also, you may be called on regularly to help your child with the instructions, which can be a little confusing at times.
Let’s be honest here. Electronics can be intimidating. To combat this the inventors have tested and re-tested with kids all over America and those kids have loved it! It’s just a uniquely original approach to a kids computer building kit. Everyone can play with ease. The Piper really has the potential to become a milestone in a child’s life. It creates an experience that will help kids to fall in love with building, creating and engineering. Look, it’s not fool-proof but it will be mastered by any self-motivated and determined kid without too much trouble. The Piper is an innovative way of combining the physical and virtual worlds together – a proven and successful method in getting kids to understand computers and hardware operations.
And so the question becomes: what will your kids create with Piper?