If you haven’t heard of Minecraft, some may consider you lucky. Others may be shocked. It’s a block-based, build-it-yourself video game that has become popular over the years with gamers of all ages, especially younger ones. It allows people to create virtually anything in their blocky worlds, encouraging users to pump their creative juices. One startup plans to take the game further by using it as a foundation to teach users to build their own computers and learn electronics.
Piper, a startup promoting invention and creation through DIY electronics for kids, has created a kit that allows kids to create real life circuits and see how they interact in Minecraft. It not only gets kids excited for learning technology, but it also makes Minecraft more exciting.
How does it work? The kit comes with a laser cut plywood travel case to assemble, which houses the built-in 7” LCD Display, Raspberry Pi 3, a laser-etched acrylic Raspberry Pi 3 case, a powerbank to power the screen and Raspberry Pi for five hours, cables, USB mouse, an 8GB SD card, screwdriver, and various electronics. When kids get their hands on the kit, they use the included blueprint to put all the pieces together. The pieces are large enough for tiny hands to assemble and allow a child to immerse themselves in, not just building a computer, but learning how the components work together. The included PiperCraft game starts by helping Piper Bot traverse the Minecraft universe, but, to continue the adventure users mod their own electronics to advance the story, such as building a controller to help navigate Piper Bot.
Other things builders can do with Piper is construct switches to reveal secret doors, make LED light proximity sensors to find rare diamonds, create a buzzer piano to enter secret codes and find hidden rewards, add motion detectors when traveling underwater, and even create custom levels to share with friends. Whether you follow the manual or go at it blind, the system provides real-time feedback to let users know their electronics are built correctly. Since wires and other electronics are involved, safety is certainly a concern. But along with making computer building easy, they want to make it safe, which is way there’s no soldering required.
Many got behind the Piper kit with their Kickstarter campaign bringing in over $280,000. And Apple pioneer Steve Wozniak even voiced his support, saying “I love Piper because it represents what enabled me to do all the great technology things in my life.” Piper also received praise from another computer great, Al Alcorn, otherwise known as the inventor of Pong and the co-founder of Atari. He said, “Piper is a way to get more kids to become inventors and engineers by letting them tinker and build with technology.”
Piper isn’t the first program designed for kids to learn technology using video games as a basis, but stands out in the way they encourage the builders to mod what they’ve built to explore the Minecraft world. In fact, all you’ll likely have to do is tell your kids Minecraft is involved and they’ll be ready to tear into the kit. It’s a great way to promote creativity and encourage kids and users of all ages, to learn new skills, which are often considered complex. So remember, video games may not be that bad after all.