How a robotmaker is handling COVID-19

Wonder Workshop had to find solutions when its biggest distribution network—schools—closed, says CEO Vikas Gupta.
May 21, 2020

California’s Wonder Workshop has an interesting challenge: How do you operate a company that teaches kids robotics and coding in the classroom when most of the world’s schools are still closed?

The answer, it hopes, is to bring the classroom to the kids at home. The privately-owned company best known for its physical Dash robot has launched a digital simulator called Dash’s Neighborhood (pictured). The online playground includes programming tools and curriculum currently in use at 25,000 schools in the US.

Dash’s Neighborhood is an online tool that students can access at home or in class, at a minimal cost (comparatively the Dash Home Learning platform costs US$149). The program is accessible through “Class Connect” which is free to educators through June 2020. It’s also available on the Blockly app through Chrome and will be available on iPads in the fall.

The online platform mimics the physical use and interactions that kids usually have with an IRL robot, but the neighborhood allows them to learn the Blockly programming language and the coding curriculum, as well as offering puzzles, challenge cards and Wonder League (robotics competition) missions.

Code that students write for Dash’s Neighborhood can then also also be run on the physical robot, for any child that owns one, and shared with others. The program has already been used by 650 educators in beta, but officially launched this week.

With so much business completed via schools, Wonder Workshop needed to look for new ways to engage its end user. But the techco also wanted to support teachers and students in new ways. “We’ve seen their world upended in a very short time period, and we’ve seen this happen globally,” says CEO Vikas Gupta. “We are continuing to work with schools as they adapt to distance learning and supporting their students and classes.”

Making this digital program without a physical component has also helped Wonder Workshop with other supply chain and sales issues. Gupta says that the company has been affected both with logistical issues getting the products made and shipped to customers. Wonder Workshop’s partners which manufacture and ship the products have been affected by shutdowns, which has slowed the whole process down. Delivery around the world is also taking longer than usual due to less workers in warehouses and an influx of online orders while people shelter in place. Sales have also dipped for the company, says Gupta. He projects that its medium-term revenue is likely to be affected, as well.

However, because Wonder Workshop primarily sells its products to schools through its website and resellers, as well as directly to parents and families through Amazon, and doesn’t rely on bricks-and-mortar stores, the company’s sales channels continue to operate as normal, for now at least. Gupta says the company is going to continue to focus on online channels in the future, and will not be investing or relying on physical retail. It also plans to continue to invest in digital platforms and focus more of the company’s efforts there in the future.

In the meantime, all of the kidtech company’s employees are working from home and they’re figuring out how to fill the gap left by cancelled conferences and events where the staff would normally meet educators, school administrators and partners.

About The Author
Alexandra Whyte is Kidscreen's News & Social Media Editor. Contact her at awhyte@brunico.com



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