Five Million Robots and Counting: A Developer Grows in Brooklyn

“Sparking curiosity and making connections to the world” are key to Tinybop’s mission. Today, the Brooklyn developer released Weather, its ninth app celebrating exploration and play.

tinybop_logo   1602_TG-TinyBob-ExplorerLibrary Raul Gutierrez, founder and CEO of Tinybop, Inc., a design studio in Brooklyn, NY, believes in the power of play. “Sparking curiosity, diving into big ideas, and making connections to the world” are key to his philosophy when it comes to creating apps—and lifelong learners. Gutierrez and his team of 22 engineers, artists, and researchers have been producing apps featuring striking visuals, cool animations, and serious sound effects.

Beyond labels in multiple languages, the iOS apps contain no text. However, in Human Body, viewers can release a mosquito and discover what body systems react to its bite, follow a piece of a fruit through the digestive system, or learn how the diaphragm works; rolling through various landscapes and seascapes in Earth, users observe an avalanche in progress, watch as a river changes formation over time, or activate a volcano, and in Homes, kids can step inside the Mongolian ger (yurt), an adobe structure in Guatemala highlands, or a row house in the Northeastern United States, and once there peer into cupboards, start cooking, or open a child’s book.

With the release of Weather, the company boasts nine apps in its two collections for children ages four through nine. Its “Digital Toys” collection—Robot Factory, Monsters, and Everything Machine—provides users with the tools (multiple "appendages, gadgets, and gizmos") to build, test, play, and save creations. And the numbers are astounding; kids have designed more than 5.2 million robots and created more than 120,000 machines. The six apps in the “Explorers Library” address units covered in the classroom.

Developing a product for this collection, the team first looks at what kids are studying about the particular subject and examines the resources they are using, including books and films. Working with focus groups, they determine what it is children want to know about the topic, which, helps them determine the scope of their app. And the apps they produce offer more rewards the longer kids explore; responses to interactive play in Tinybop’s apps aren’t repetitive. For example, in Weather, variables affecting a particular weather system and "playscape" can include the time of day, the speed of the wind, the height of the clouds, and/or the amount of rain.

Tinybop apps are now available in 60 languages and have been downloaded in 155 countries. A large percentage of current sales are international, and statistics they have gleaned have produced other visible, intriguing finds: Human Body is a huge seller in Russia, and Homes outranks other apps in the amount of time kids spend exploring. For each app, an extensive online handbook for parents and educators is available (in multiple languages) and can be downloaded for free. These guides present background information on the topic, screen-by-screen suggestions of items to investigate, and prompts and questions to initiate discussion. And in line with their holistic approach, the company hosts a blog offering suggestions on books for kids, articles on learning and creativity, design sites to peruse, and much more.

With a stated mission to address the digital divide and “make a difference in the lives of all kids,” the company launched Apps for Impact last fall, partnering with other developers to bring apps into Title I schools, “and other underserved communities.” Kika Gilbert, head of Community at Tinybop, also notes that the company strives to build equity as they create apps, reaching out to members of the community for input; for example, citing Homes, what might be found in a typical house or apartment in Guatemala or Yemen. 1602_TG-TinyBob-DigitalToys

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