Interview
Finally, intelligent dolls
The days when Barbie thinks only about what to wear are over. Smart-Gurlz has designed a doll to teach young girls about computer programming.

The take-away

  • SmartGurlz are already used in some schools in the US and Denmark to boost girls’ interest in computer science and programming.
  • The doll assumes that girls engage more in speech and role playing, while boys tend to focus on spatial play and technical aspects.

Still today, fewer girls than boys pursue an education in science. Harnessing gender stereotypes rather than doing away with them, company founder Sharmi Albrechtsen, an American woman living in Denmark, developed a doll to teach kids how to code in a very girly way.

TECHNOLOGIST: How did you come up with the idea?

Sharmi Albrechtsen: My daughter wasn’t into maths, and I had a hard time finding toys to get her interested in the subject. All the drones and robots available were geared towards boys. So, I decided to launch my own product, highlighting young girls’ different play patterns. Girls engage more in speech and roleplaying, while boys tend to focus on spatial play and technical aspects.

T. What sets the SmartGurlz robot apart from other products?

SA. I designed four dolls, and each has her own story and personality. One is a computer hacker, another a mathematician, and there’s also an engineer. They all drive around on a Segway-like scooter called Siggy, which girls can programme using an app to send the dolls off on missions. For example, they can set Siggy up to ride through Central Park in New York and look for all the hot dog stands. Or to go through the city and find a list of tools to bring back to the engineer doll. The technical aspects are embedded in a rich imaginary context. We work with a team of students at DTU to think up new stories.

T. Do you think that playing with this type of doll can help spark girls’ interest in science?

SA. A number of studies show that children who play with robots or technical toys have greater chances of developing an interest in scientific fields later in life. Each mission in the SmartGurlz app requires 40 to 50 lines of code. The Siggy robot can make turns, so children have to calculate a curve radius. Our dolls are already used in some schools in the US and Denmark to boost girls’ interest in computer science and programming.

T. What’s next?

SA. We launched SmartGurlz in 2016, with a business plan forecasting sales of 4,000 units. In 2017, we moved into the US market. We’re also very active in France, where our dolls are sold in more than 300 stores, along with Denmark, Russia, Singapore, Belgium and the UK. The next steps will be to integrate augmented reality into the SmartGurlz app, create more stories and develop our points of sale.

Sources

Sharmi Albrechtsen