Apple’s new Swift Playgrounds app can control Lego robots and Parrot drones

apple swift playgrounds update rsz children playing robots
Apple’s Swift Playgrounds, a free iPad app the Cupertino, California-based company launched last year during its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), puts Apple’s Swift programming language in terms kids can understand: Games. Until now, its capabilities were relatively limited — kids could only publish basic apps for iOS. But on Thursday, Apple announced partnerships with Lego, Sphero, Parrot, and others that lets blossoming Swift students program drones, remote-controlled toys, and more.

The new Swift Playgrounds supports robots. Lots of robots. Lego Mindstorms Education EV3 will let kids move the motors and sensors on the creatures, vehicles, and machines, they create by connecting to individual modules via Bluetooth. Lego said it has designed 10 hours of lessons specifically for the new Playgrounds app.

Integration with Sphero’s Sprk+ platform will allow Swift dilettantes to roll, turn, accelerate, and change the color of Sphero’s remote-controlled balls — the new Playgrounds packs exercises that break the development process down step by step. And kids with Parrot’s Mambo, Airborne, and Rolling Spider drones can program them to perform takeoffs, landings, turns, and aerial maneuvers like flips.

Other newcomers to the Swift Playgrounds family include Ubtech’s Jimu Robot Meebot Kit, which walks, waves, and dances to Swift code, and Dash by Wonder Workshop, which provides a “hands-on” way for kids to learn Swift. Skoog, a tactile, music-playing cube, is also in tow.

“More than 1 million kids and adults from around the world are already using Swift Playgrounds to learn the fundamentals of coding with Swift in a fun and interactive way,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, said in a statement. “Now they can instantly see the code they create and directly control their favorite robots, drones and instruments through Swift Playgrounds. It’s an incredibly exciting and powerful way to learn.”

Since the launch of Swift Playgrounds in 2016, Apple has collaborated with educators around the country to build Swift into computer science curriculums. Its efforts have been rewarded — the iPhone maker said more than 1 million unique users have joined the platform since its launch.

With the update, Apple is expanding Swift Playgrounds’s focus from software to hardware — and betting that kids will come along for the ride. To that end, it is taking pains to ensure the new integrations do not require any special hardware or peripherals. The new Swift Playgrounds is compatible with all iPad Air and iPad Pro models and iPad mini 2 and later running iOS 10 or later. And the newly supported robots are plug-and-play — as long as you have one around, you can start programming it immediately.

Swift Playgrounds version 1.5 will be available as a free download on the App Store beginning Monday.

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