Harry Potter-inspired app helps young fans crack coding

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Harry Potter never learned computer code, but a London-based startup plans to help Muggle children do so with the famous wizard’s help. 

Aspiring young developers will be able to use a new coding kit developed by Kano, which includes a physical magic wand that responds to movement in the hand, to learn how to recreate some of the magic spells seen in the popular movies, such as Wingardium Leviosa and Stupefy.

The Harry Potter film franchise broke box office records with eight major titles after the fantasy bestseller series by J.K. Rowling sold millions of copies around the world.

When it’s released in October through a partnership with Warner Brothers, Kano’s Harry Potter coding kit will cost $99 (about R1 350) and introduce children to programming languages such as JavaScript, which has real-world uses in modern web design and software development.

Kano, founded in 2013, makes do-it-yourself computer-building kits for kids – or anyone –  and has its own online platform where people can create games.

Alex Klein, co-founder and chief executive officer of Kano, said the magic wand kit was conceived after executives at Walmart, which sells the startup’s products in the United States, were intrigued by the company’s movement sensor products.

“Our Walmart associates suggested we show it to Warner Brothers, as the in-air interaction had the feeling of magic, and they knew Harry Potter was growing,” Klein said.

During a visit to the entertainment company’s Los Angeles studio in 2017, Klein told Bloomberg he suggested there was “a connection between our world, where a small class of secretive ‘wizards’ command the realms of computing, code, and machine learning - and the rest of us are stuck as befuddled Muggles,” referring to the non-magical inhabitants of the Harry Potter universe.

Encouraging children to code has become a big business focus for many companies.

In June, Mattel introduced Robotics Engineer Barbie. In addition to a purple laptop for the polymath fashion doll, the toy also helps kids learn code via a partnership with Tynker, a game-based educational platform.

Lego Boost was created by the Danish brick-building company’s new CEO, Niels B. Christiansen, in part to give kids access to a new way to learn computer programming, but also to help reverse a slump in sales.

Governments are pushing harder to make such skills accessible. In 2015, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio promised that by 2025, every public school student in the city would be learning computer science.

In Britain, the subject has been part of the national curriculum for children as young as 5 years old since 2014. While in China, parents have been signing their kids up to preschool coding classes for years.

“Young people should learn to code to enable them to become confident tech builders, curators and makers,” said Adam Freeman, co-founder of British digital skills firm Freeformers. “All career, profession or life choices will benefit from this skill and mindset.”

Kano, was founded in 2013 by ex-journalist Alex Klein, his uncle and venture capitalist Saul Klein, and Yonatan Raz-Fridman. To date it’s received about $37m (about R493m) in venture capital funding.

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