Like Lego blocks clicked together, two educational robot companies have combined to offer their collective programming and robotics lessons to students spanning from 4 years old to college.
Modular Robotics, the Boulder, Colo.-based maker of Cubelet robot blocks, has acquired Dexter Industries, a Stafford, Va.-based maker of various educational robots with names like GoPiGo, GrovePi and GiggleBot. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
A demonstration of a Cubelets kit from Modular Robotics.
The two companies joined in part to reach wider age groups. Modular Robotics’s offerings target kids ages 4 to 9, while Dexter’s have proven more popular with students from middle school to college, says Modular CEO Eric Schweikardt.
The deal closed July 1. Talks of an acquisition between the two companies lasted for about a year, Schweikardt says. The deal comes on the heels of other recent acquisitions in the education robotics space: Sphero bought littleBits in August, and iRobot purchased Root Robotics in June.
Modular Robotics’ Cubelets are robot blocks that fit in the palm of your hand. Students can attach and program them to perform a variety of tasks, like moving to spinning and flashing lights.
Pre-K to second grade lessons cover programming basics such as sorting and sequencing. Second to fifth grade lessons include computational thinking, pattern recognition and engineering basics. Lessons for older students touch on design thinking, systems thinking and parallel programming. Packages for educators include a five Cubelet set for $139.95 and a 156 Cubelet set for $3,900.
Dexter’s robot cars offer lessons in technology, math and science, with universities using the cars to complement programming lessons. A GoPiGo3 robot car base kit costs $99.99, and a coding class package with ten robot kits for $5,000.
The companies continue to integrate and plan new products that leverage both their strengths. Schweikardt says he’d like to see Cubelets used for more advanced lessons and older age groups. Both companies have more than half of their customer base in the U.S.
Combined, the merged companies have about 35 full-time employees, says Schweikardt, 43. He, the Dexter team and other educational robot makers of their size have become familiar with each other over the years. To Schweikardt, small companies compete for kids’ time against large-scale toymakers. “Sometimes we can feel like direct competitors, but it’s really all of us against the big companies,” he says.
Modular Robotics was founded in 2008 with a National Science Foundation grant to build an earlier version of Cubelets. Spun off from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Modular began manufacturing and shipping the robots in 2011.
The company counts among its partners Jefferson County School District in Colorado, Boone County School District in Kentucky and Pinellas County Schools in Florida.
Schweikardt first learned about Dexter around 2013, when the company offered sensors and extensions for Lego Mindstorms. Dexter was founded in 2010 by John Cole in his kitchen where he designed, assembled and shipped kits by hand, according to the company’s website.
A Dexter Industries video on how to make its micro:bit robot GiggleBot navigate a maze.
Before that, he managed $1 billion worth of engineering development projects for the U.S. in Afghanistan, and worked with the U.S. Army on development and counterinsurgency projects in Iraq, according to his LinkedIn.
Cole funded an idea to connect Lego Mindstorms and the Raspberry Pi single-board computer through a Kickstarter campaign. By September 2016, he raised nearly $128,000 across 1,700 backers. Cole will continue to work with Modular Robotics as chief product officer. The Dexter brand name will continue.
Schweikardt says there are no plans for another purchase, but he’s not opposed to the idea. “I never thought we’d grow through acquisition,” he says. The merged company expects to launch new educational materials early next year.