Thymio is 10 years old! This little teaching robot was created at EPFL at the end of 2011, in the framework of NCCR Robotics’ educational robotics projects, and since then has been used in hundreds of classes to teach schoolchildren about programming languages and computational thinking.
“We picked the right time to launch it” recalls Francesco Mondada, academic director at the EPFL’s Center for Learning Sciences, who designed Thymio. “Digital sciences first made their way into elementary education about a decade ago. Our robot provides a simple, intuitive, fun and non-gendered way to approach the subject.”
Thymio is a small robot created out of NCCR Robotics, which has been widely used successfully in schools across Switzerland and in many parts of Europe. With Thymio, students can discover the universe of robotics and learn a robot’s language. Thymio is programmable and can carry out numerous experiments, making the basics of robotics and programming easily accessible at whatever age. Thymio’s classroom-related material, including educational documents based on Thymio as well as Thymio MOOC is a particularly useful pedagogic support for classroom use according to student’s age, learning objectives and topics. A community of teachers using Thymio and other robots has been created around the ROTECO platform. Thymio also offers the fun and engaging topic based papercraft activities.
About 74,000 of these robots have been manufactured over the last ten years, and over half of them are at work in Swiss and French schools. In January, the Canton of Vaud announced that Thymio robots would be making their way into all elementary school classes to teach children from the age of six. “We’ve had wonderful feedback from teachers who’ve used them”, adds Mondada. The robots also grow alongside the children, and can teach and challenge them throughout their education. In fact, there are even courses at EPFL where Thymio robots are used as learning aids.
A lot of the popularity is down to the simplicity and versatility of the design, created in partnership with the Lausanne University of Art and Design (ECAL). Thymio only uses two motors (these power its wheels, but are also compatible with Lego equipment), and can communicate using sounds and colors, while also interacting with its environment through its five touch buttons alongside array of sensors used to detect proximity, movement, temperature and sound.
Most importantly, it also has developed, with ETH Zurich and then with support from the Gebert Rüf Foundation, a highly intuitive visual programming language (VPL) interface, allowing children as young as seven to immediately grasp the basics of programming. Programs can be built from blocks on the screen, and then sent to the robot so it can carry out the instructions in real life.
Over the weekend of 17-20 November 2021, several groups of fans came together virtually for a “hackathymio” event. The goal was to imagine scenarios where Thymio robots can be used to help with understanding of basic concepts behind artificial intelligence.