Wearable fever continues to sweep the country and the tech world, but the latest big thing in wrist gadgets isn't for business or fitness — it's a connected version of the classic friendship bracelet beloved by generations of tween and teen girls. But this bracelet isn't just for fun — right out of the box, it comes with the ability to teach girls the basics of coding, with advanced open-source abilities to let their imaginations soar. If you've been reading the news lately, you know helping girls get excited about coding is a big priority for many parents, educators and even tech companies.
Jewelbots is the brainchild of entrepreneurs Sara Chipps and Brooke Moreland, whose Kickstarter campaign recently raised over $160,000 (with only a $30,000 goal), and whose invention has been heralded by the press, including Wired.com, which called Jewelbots "the coolest wearable out there."
Jewelbots are colorful, Bluetooth-enabled bracelets that girls can program to communicate with each other (such as lighting up when a friend is nearby, or sending a message across a room), and can be used with or without a phone. A user can sync her Jewelbot with those of her friends, or get creative and program it with a companion app. In the process of tinkering with their bracelets, girls learn the fundamentals of computer science, potentially sparking a lifelong interest in coding.
Once a teen or pre-teen gets hooked on coding her Jewelbot, she can use her imagination to program her bracelet to perform even more advanced actions (using open-source Arduino IDE software), such as lighting up when she gets a text or social media message, or when her favorite TV show is about to start. She can even create her own "if/then" programming recipes and share them with friends.
We spoke with Jewelbots co-founder Brooke Moreland about what makes Jewelbots so exciting, how young girls are interacting with them in testing groups, and when we can expect to see them available to purchase.
Verizon News Center: Can you tell us a little bit about Jewelbots and what makes them different from your typical friendship bracelet?
Brooke Moreland: Jewelbots are everything you love about friendship bracelets (creativity, bonding, DIY), but smarter. They can be programmed to light up in matching colors when your friends are nearby, and you can also send each other secret messages when you are close together.
Verizon News Center: How did you and Sara first come up with the idea that became Jewelbots? Was there a "eureka" moment?
Brooke Moreland: Sara has been teaching kids to code through Girl DevelopIt, an organization she founded in 2010. She heard from a lot of women that they wished they had known that computer science was a fun and attainable career choice that was open to them. I was one of these women, as I came to tech later in my career. We both wanted to create something that got girls excited about programming at a young age. We wanted to build something that was genuinely fun, that girls would want to customize and make their own. No kid wants to learn computer science so they can get a job when they are older, but they do want to learn a fun skill that will help them create something awesome.
Verizon News Center: You've tested Jewelbots with real kids. What was their reaction, and what did you learn? Were there any surprises?
Brooke Moreland: We've talked to a ton of kids about Jewelbots, and let them play with early prototypes. They love it. It is so great to see kids of this generation just instantly take to technology. They just get it. They've grown up with it and it comes naturally to them.
Verizon News Center: When can we expect Jewelbots to go on sale?
Brooke Moreland: They should be out by next spring, but stay tuned, as we will open up pre-sale on our website soon!