Education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields is getting a lot of attention these days and parents are encouraging their children to pursue a career in a bid to get higher pay.
Many companies have been churning out cool and exciting toys that teach STEM skills and letting kids get hooked on to it.
Toy robots and coding are nothing new to the UAE but the new kid on the block – Pai Technology from China – primary focus is to make kids attempt to code their robots using drag-and-drop tools and AR and make them move in certain ways, dance or light up.
Shawn Sheng, Chief Product Officer at Pai Technology, said in an exclusive to TechRadar Pro Middle East, that when its founder was looking for children’s toys in China in 2012, he could not find any good quality products and no big brands, apart from Lego, and decided to do it himself.
The company was started in 2014 and launched tablets, coding robots and smartwatches for kids.
Sheng, before joining Pai Technology in 2015, worked at Intel and was responsible for product R&D and design of the educational platform’s business division.
Sheng said that the launches in 2014 were not very successful and were not well accepted by the market.
“As a startup, our voices were not loud enough to educate the parents and tell them that the products are good for your kids. Lego was the number one player, even in China. Seven out of 10 people knew Lego in China and when we ask them to name the second player, they go blank,” he said.
So, he said the company found that building blocks have the potential to make a very “successful brand”.
To differentiate from Lego, he said: “We took the opposite direction. When Lego was targeting kids above four years old, we planned to focus on kids between one and six years old and add technology into the building blocks to make it more interactive.”
“Lego is like a hospital for adults and kids but Pai is a paediatrics hospital and this is how we differentiate from Lego,” he said.
Later in 2014, Pai launched CubeTastic, a step-by-step process, using AR, to solve Rubik's Cube puzzle and Ocean Pets for kids to mould fun sea creatures and learn about them and play with them in an app.
“We are the only technology company that partners with parents to enhance their children's education and development through fun and imaginative STEM-based play. Construction blocks strengthen math skills, build creativity and refine problem-solving skills,” Sheng said.
The next big launch, he said was the Botzees in 2019, a new robotics kit for kids aged four and above that combines creativity, construction and coding.
“Kids can build, program and code six different pre-designed robots or choose to create their own with the specially designed blocks that come with the kit. It can help them develop motor skills and robotics,” he said.
Focusing on schools
Sheng said that Botzees was targeted globally because coding is not very popular in China compared to the US and other regions.
In China, he said that Maths and English are very popular as students need to go overseas for higher education while some parents in some regions are not keen to put their children learn coding.
“It is growing albeit at a slower space. In the US, these kind of coding products are already very popular but in China, I haven’t seen any good product,” he said.
Last year, the company sold 50,000 units globally and had forecast 100,000 units for this year but Sheng said that Covid-19 has derailed its targets.
“We are not in the education market yet and plan to do so in the second half of the year. Schools will be the major market for us to solve solutions. The biggest markets for us are the US and China,” he said.
Moreover, he sees the Middle East as a growth market, especially the UAE as the country has been playing a key role in developing Arab coders.
He was mentioning about the one million Arab coders, an educational platform that offers free programs for individuals interested to develop their digital skills, by the Dubai Future Foundation.
“Coding is a national language and has no boundaries. My next assignment is to do coding without a tablet or a smartphone for its next product, where the machine or the toy itself can recognise the coding,” he said.
Shaji Shanmughan, Founder and CEO of iBrandConnect, the distributor for Botzees in the UAE, said that they have just signed the deal from May and sees a huge potential for the product.
“We are waiting for the schools to reopen and our focus will be to start from the schools. With the help of schools and teachers, I feel it is the right place for kids to develop their coding skills,” he said.
Botzees is priced at AED 599 and will be available from online retailers such as SharafDG, noon, Carrefour and Amazon from July 30.