Friendship bracelets have been a mainstay of middle-school fashion for decades. From knotted threads to plastic lanyards to interlocking charms, each generation seems to find its own unique way of displaying its social network. And for today’s tweens, the latest incarnation could be wearable technology, but with some educational benefits.
A new product called Jewelbots aims to elevate friendship bracelets from fashionable status symbols to an interactive, educational tool that teaches kids to code.
The bracelet’s coding aspect was always the primary goal for Jewelbots co-founders Sara Chipps and Brooke Moreland. Chipps, now CEO of the company, has been coding since her preteen years, and in 2010, she founded a national nonprofit called Girl Develop It, which offered a series of low-cost coding classes for adult women. But Chipps said she heard repeatedly from these women that they wished they could have learned coding skills when they were young.
The idea sparked Chipps’ interest and she designed a bracelet that would change color based on a girl’s outfit. Unfortunately, the jewelry fell flat in testing groups, Chipps said, because the girls were bored.
“We have to give them something they love so they learn and code,” Chipps told Live Science. So, she went directly to the girls and asked them for advice. Their nearly unanimous answer was to design something centered on friendship, according to Chipps.
With their input, Chipps came up with Jewelbots. The bracelet is simple enough: electronics and LED lights enclosed within a plastic charm, stamped with a flower design, and threaded onto a woven strap. The included Bluetooth-enabled charm can be programmed to react to up to eight friends, glowing in a unique color when a certain friend is nearby. Girls can also send secret messages to each other through lights and vibrations, Chipps said.
The Jewelbots friendship bracelet can be paired with a smartphone app that transforms it from a simple piece of jewelry into an educational tool. Using very rudimentary coding, girls can program their Jewelbot to respond to almost anything — from changes in the weather to a new Instagram post, according to Chipps.
Jewelbots communicate via Bluetooth, piggybacking on nearby networks to extend their reach, Chipps said. The bracelet is not enabled with wireless or GPS technology to protect kids’ privacy. In fact, Chipps added that the bracelet could be programmed to send a text to a parent or guardian if a child is feeling unsafe.
Jewelbots can be preordered for $69 on the company’s website and the bracelets are expected to begin shipping this fall.