On Saturday morning, my sons and I were casually watching several videos from Boston Dynamics. My oldest, Charlie, was enthralled and wanted to build his own robot afterwards. We set forth, procuring the finest materials I can muster – a styrofoam package insert, cardboard, paper cups, glue, and duct tape. As we were building, Charlie asked if we could make the robot talk. A few minutes later, we sat down at my laptop. We talked about “coding” and how I get to write programs that tell computers what to do every day – he thought this was so cool. Five minutes later, we have a prototype text-to-speech soundboard NativeScript mobile app for my kids up and running in the iOS emulator. Combined with his iGuy case, the iPad Mini became the robot’s head.
Being a Geek Dad
As my boys get older, I’m finding more and more ways to be a geek dad. We’ve built treasure maps, marble runs, medieval castles with drawbridges, painted wall murals of Scooby Doo, read books on space and the Mars rovers, designed rocket ships and helicopters that look like flying hot dogs, and built Lego.
These are all cool and geeky things to do, but they just haven’t been old enough (or had enough patience) to code with me. This is partly because the boys can’t read yet, but also because they really want to interact with my cell phone or iPad. They have very little interest in my laptops. So, I’ve found that if I can reinforce things we’ve talked about by finding a video or educational game on their tablet, it reinforces their learning, and they become more engaged. I’ve been amazed at how my oldest will recall intricate details of how astronauts drink in space because we read about it and then watched a short video on spacesuits.
NativeScript made me look like a Superhero
Up until now, coding with the boys has been a non-option; however, today, NativeScript made me look like a Superhero. In less than 3 minutes, we were able to create a new NativeScript app to have my son’s iPad speak to us using a basic text-to-speech engine. The short time it took me to find the text-to-speed engine, scaffold an app, and run in the iOS emulator kept my son’s attention. When I say 3 minutes, I mean three minutes. Now, in the 3 minutes, we created a proof-of-concept that said one phrase in the emulator, but that was enough to have my son say, “Woah! This is soooo cool, Dad.”
So, I owe some people a huge thanks. First, the NativeScript team at Telerik – thank you! Second, Anarchic Knight in the UK – thank you for the text-to-speech NativeScript plugin. It worked without any hassle. Literally 2 lines of code and my NativeScript app was talking.
Build Your Own App
You can grab my source code and build your own app based on it by checking out my Github repo. Oh, and during nap time, I ended up adding a few silly features like an “OS loading” boot screen for the app and profiles for different app users, with varying soundboard sound bytes per person. I hope you enjoy!