Tech company Kano has created a coding kit for the Harry Potter universe, with a wand that users can programme to cast spells when they wave their hand.
Kano partnered with Warner Bros Consumer Products on the coding kit, which is the first official Harry Potter-branded STEM toy and uses canonical spell-casting gestures.
It lets kids — as well as coding-curious adult Harry Potter fans — assemble the wand from step-by-step instructions, program what effects different spell gestures should have, and then use those to play games in the Wizarding World of the accompanying app.
Users end up levitating feathers, conjuring pumpkins, manipulating flames and engorging Every Flavour jellybeans until they take over the screen.
The project follows Kano's ethos to battle the "throwaway culture of electronics". It marks the first major brand collaboration for the company, which became one of the first coding toymakers when it launched its build-it-yourself Computer Kit back in 2013. The company is thrilled with the partner it found.
"Harry Potter is a brand that's not only huge, it is gender-neutral," Kano creative director Aaron Hinchion told Dezeen. "As a brand we don't focus on either male-dominated or female-dominated areas; we think that anyone can learn to code, so we wanted a brand that fitted with that."
Among the electronics in the wand is a gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer, which together enable the wand to recognise even the subtlest difference in hand motion.
The plastic wand design was honed through over the course of more than 100 mockups and models. Kano decided it didn't want the wand to feel like it belonged to characters like Harry or Hermione from the books or movies; it wanted users to take full ownership.
It also wanted to balance the fantasy aesthetic of the Harry Potter films with Kano's own bright and minimal style.
"We tried to find this really nice blend between the aesthetic and visual language we've been building with our brand, which is playful but at the same time doesn't feel too childish, with something that's a fantasy-based, really ornate movie-prop aesthetic," said Kano lead product designer Bruno Schillinger.
"We wanted to try to push it together in a way that felt both us and them."
The team ended up taking the most inspiration from the wands of Ginny and Snape for their streamlined, black hexagonal design — the colour chosen because it makes the material look "less plasticky".
The wand comes in four parts that the user has to assemble before they can start coding, and which they are also encouraged to take apart, reuse or recycle when (or if) they grow out of the toy.
"It's part of our USP to make electronics that are fully disassemblable," said Schillinger. "The user builds them and understands what goes inside them, which for super-thin wooden sticks is actually quite difficult!"
"We had to try to find a way for the user to construct the wand without any glue, without any screws," he continued. "It's the same with all our products. If you at some point graduate from the kit and fancy doing something else with the tech inside, you can."
"In this case, you can potentially make your own wand out of wood or whatever you like and take the core out of this one and put it in. It's recyclable. It's fully considered in terms of its full life cycle, rather than something you use and then leave in the cupboard for the rest of its life."
The wand responds to an array of spell-casting motions taken directly from the Warner Bros movies and theme parks, such as wingardium leviosa, expelliarmus, stupefy and incendio.
An official lexicon of what these gestures looked like didn't exist but had to be developed by Warner Bros specifically for this project.
"They had wikis here, some references over there," said Hinchion. "They had to create a canon list of movements for us. It came to us on post-it notes, all sorts of little drawings. I think this is the first product that has that canon list of motions."
The spell-casting feature also involved Kano's first foray into machine learning. The engineering team trained an algorithm based on thousands of gestures that they performed approximating spells.
The result of this approach is that the wand reads a user's hand gesture and matches it to the spell it resembles, if it resembles any spell at all. The user isn't asked to trace a shape that might be unnatural.
They also get access to the KanoWorld online community to share their creations, which come out looking like mini games, animations or pixel art, all with code attached so that other users can adopt or adapt it if they wish.
The Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit is compatible with iOS and Android and can be used with both tablets and computers. It is available for pre-order now on the Kano website and will ship 1 October 2018.