Starting today, Swift Playgrounds version 1.5 will let you control third-party items such as drones. It’s the first time Apple has allowed its Swift learning tool to venture beyond the confines of the iPad.
Headlining partner LEGO will make its Mindstorms kits available, and says it has created 10 hours of content specifically for Playgrounds. Other hardware partners include Parrot, Sphero, UBTECH, Wonder Workshop and Skoog. All have a unique product that represents a foray into the world of IoT for kids.
None of the products require any API work by users, either. Instead, Swift Playgrounds will rely on Bluetooth to make the connection between devices, while an internal API handles the interface users see once a partner device is connected. It didn’t say as much, but it’s likely Apple has whitelisted specific devices for use with this API. An example: LEGO’s Mindstorms EV3 is the company’s only connected kit for use with Playgrounds, and Parrot is only making the tiny Mambo drone available.
Once linked, those devices have a dedicated on-screen experience. If you were to code a choreographed dance for UBTECH’s Jimu robot, its moves would run on-screen as well as in real life once you run the program. It’s not ‘playable,’ per se, but serves as a clear expression of what the code should be doing. It’s worth noting that any device can link to Swift Playgrounds via Bluetooth, a feature that has been active since version 1.0.
“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,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering. “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.”
It’s not the first time Apple has opened up Swift Playgrounds. From the start, it was designed to be accessible to anyone who wanted to create a lesson plan via an authorship program. A Playground file made in Xcode could be downloaded to Swift Playgrounds for the iPad and used to teach a class, for instance.
The partner-hardware angle is new, but Playground ultimately remains a teaching tool. Coupled with bespoke curriculum, students will undoubtedly get a better idea of just what it takes to turn ideas into real-world products that function as designed. It’s a litmus test for development, and impressive that it can now be handled via an iPad.