Who needs Barbie? These high-tech dolls teach girls how to code.

When Sharmi Albrechtsen first noticed her daughter, Nina, was struggling in math, she started searching for a way to help.

So she went to the store and purchased a coding robot program, but that didn’t go over as well as she thought it would.

“She didn’t want to build the robot, she wasn’t inspired by the coding program that was with it and she basically said, ‘Look, mom, let’s play with this later,'” Albrechtsen explained. “Then she packed it up and put it away.”That’s when Albrechtsen realized there was a gap in the market in terms of coding products that target girls.

“When you go into Toy ’R’ Us or any of the major retailers, you’ll find that the entire robotics section is boys or gender neutral,” she said. “It’s not really pulling girls into those sections and so they don’t have the products, they don’t play with them and, therefore, they’re not interested in tech.”

And Albrechtsen’s assessment lines up with what recent studies have shown. A Microsoft study in Europe found that girls are most interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at 11 years old. But by age 15, their interest starts to decrease.

With the help of her husband, who is an engineer, Albrechtsen created SmartGurlz, which is the world’s first self-balancing coding robot for girls.

“Everybody loves a dancing robot, right?”

Sharmi Albrechtsen

The SmartGurlz dolls — Jen, Maria, Zara, Jun and Emma — can all ride robotic scooters called Siggys.

Each Siggy is controlled by the SugarCoded app, which is where the coding part comes in. Using the app’s joystick, kids can roll the dolls across the floor or they can use coding blocks to complete various missions.

“You can drive your Siggy around, you can do dance moves and save them. We also have dance moves integrated already,” Albrechtsen said. “Everybody loves a dancing robot, right?”

Each doll has a unique story that tells about something in STEM.

“I think a lot of products out there, you code for the sake of coding, but we found that girls like applied math or they like problem-solving,” Albrechtsen said. “So they want to have something that’s connected to a story.”

For example, one of the characters is named Jen and she’s a mechanical engineer. Girls get to read a story about her before starting coding exercises on the app. Jen loves hot dogs, so on one of the missions, girls are asked to code their way through Central Park in New York City to help her find a snack.

Albrechtsen added that girls don’t have to know anything about coding to get started.

“I don’t expect it to be the only coding product you ever have in your life,” she added. “It’s a bridge between a world where you never even thought about having a coding robot to having one and then growing your interest.”

Albrechtsen pitched SmartGurlz on the Nov. 12 episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank” and landed an investment from Daymond John of $200,000 for 25 percent of her business.

Now, Albrechtsen said she’s looking into different licensing opportunities. Beyond that, she said SmartGurlz may soon have some new accessories, missions and apps.

With this product, Albrechtsen said she hopes to reach girls who “who could never even think about playing with a coding robot.”

Read more stories from Alix Hines on Circa.

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