This hi-tech friendship bracelet wants to get girls coding

Image: Jewelbots
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The friendship bracelet is going hi-tech.

Jewelbots, a New York City-based startup, is hoping its programmable bracelet will spark an interest in science and technology for little girls. The company launched a Kickstarter project yesterday to cover the cost of manufacturing, easily blowing past its $30,000 goal, and it plans to ship its first batch of bracelets in March 2016.

Jewelbots is the brainchild of Sara Chipps, cofounder of the nonprofit group Girl Develop It, and Brooke Moreland, who previously founded a fashion photo-sharing app called Fashism. The two wanted to create a wearable that little girls would want to tinker with. “We didn’t want a teaching tool,” Moreland tells Quartz. “We wanted them to be inspired by natural curiosity—something they think is fun.”

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The bracelet was designed to be very basic. There is no screen, but its charm has a motor and four LEDs that can be programmed to change colors based on different triggers. For example, it can match the color of the bracelet of a girl’s best friend when she is nearby. A button on Jewelbots also allows wearers to buzz their friends. (Since many classrooms bar smartphone usage, the bracelets use a mesh Bluetooth network that allows for bracelet-to-bracelet communication without a phone.)

“You could send a message to a friend in class and no one would know,” says Moreland.

Because Jewelbots uses Arduino, an open-source hardware platform, girls can program these bracelets with more robust actions, such as lighting up the charm when they get a new Instagram like. To guide them as they learn about programming, the company will provide snippets of code on its website that girls can easily modify.

It’s estimated that only 20% of computer programmers are women. Though tech companies have become more transparent about the diversity of their workforce, they are still slow to hire women (and minorities) in technical roles. At Apple, 20% of its tech workers (as opposed to marketing or business development) are women. At Yahoo, Google, and Facebook, the numbers vary from 15% to 18%.

“I would have loved something like this when I was a kid,” says Moreland, who as an adult learned programming basics through classes offered by Girl Develop It. “Growing up, it never occurred to me that computer science was something I could do.”