This Hackable Wearable Is for Kids Who Don’t Mess Around
Technology Will Save Us, the London tech-for-kids company that in 2013 made the popular DIY Gamer Kit, is launching a wearable device today. It’s called the Mover, and it’s best defined by what it is not: “This is not a GPS, or a tracker. It doesn’t count steps, or collect data and put it in a cloud, and it’s not a smartwatch,” says Bethany Koby, TWSU’s founder and CEO. “It probably will compete more with other open-ended creative products, like Lego.”
Here are a few things that can be said about the Mover: its core unit is a plastic case that houses two circuit boards—one with a processor, the other with an accelerometer, a magnetometer, and eight RGB LED lights. Like TWSU’s gaming devices, the Mover comes disassembled. Once young users have snapped and connected the components into place, the Mover is about the size and shape of a Double Stuf Oreo cookie. It can attach to a silicone slap-band bracelet, or a carabiner, or kind of anywhere, which is largely the point. The Mover, Koby says, “is about you as a young person, with all your boundless activities.”
Koby tells me as this she snaps together a prototype of the Mover. It takes less than a minute to piece together, and the process, though brief, neatly illustrates the inner workings of computerized devices. Other devices shroud sensors in plastic and glass, but with the Mover, you can see and touch the accelerometer sensor (“This is literally in a trillion phones,” Koby says), the magnetometer (“just like a compass”), and the eight RGB LED lights. This is central to TWSU’s ideology. “We don’t make prefabricated products,” Koby says. “With ours, you always make the tech yourself.”
Through new block-based desktop software that TWSU is also launching today, kids can customize the lights in their Movers and program them to respond to the sensors. Run for five minutes, and all the LED lights will flash blue; jump rope for 60 seconds without tripping, and your Mover will turn pink. The idea, Koby says, is to give kids a simple tool for playing with the basic “if this, then that” functionality of technology, but in the context of their own physical movement. If I move like this, that creates data, and that data will trigger a reaction. “When you give kids a few, but very powerful, parameters—movement, customization, and an open-ended potential for [the Mover] to respond to them—you can get it to do a million things. You don’t need a milion sensors, you actually just need a few to be really creative.”
After watching 300 kids in London, France, and Germany play with various prototypes of the Maker, Koby is convinced that this idea—that a few basic tools can unleash a ton of creativity—is a solid one. She’s seen kids program Movers to play versions of hot potato, to work as the centerpiece of an Iron Man costume, and to help guide an obstacle course. One kid even programmed his Mover to unlock rainbow-colored lights after two minutes of brushing his teeth, to prove to his diligence to his mom. Another kid stuck his Mover inside a paper towel cardboard tube, and made a lightsaber.
None of these actions, it’s worth noting, involves a screen. The Mover is a STEM toy, for sure, but it’s also a Trojan Horse for getting kids started on computational thinking. Young users will interface with a screen to program their Movers, but after that, everything happens on the playground and in the playroom. Kids are already learning how to code on computers, Koby reasons. “We don’t want this to be something that needs a screen, it’s something you do in the world,” she says. “Go dance, get on your scooter, do what you do as a young person.”