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Robotics Engineer Barbie builds robots, teaches kids to code

Barbie doesn't just look the part, she acts it.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Astronaut. Developer. Scientist. Paleontologist. And now: engineer. Today's Barbie is way more into science than surfboards.  

Robotics Engineer Barbie is the latest career for Mattel's 59-year-old fashion doll. She's decked out with safety glasses, a laptop with a cluttered screen of coding windows -- and of course, she's got a little robot accessory.

She goes on sale on Tuesday at the Barbie store and Amazon for $14 (that's roughly £11 or AU$19), and she comes in four skin tones. 

Now Playing: Watch this: The rise of Robotics Engineer Barbie
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Barbie has racked up nearly 200 careers in her lifespan, and this marks her third career with a computer science focus. But there's something different this time around. Mattel also created a workbook and Tynker.com program to teach kids basic coding concepts. 

This isn't just a career for grown-ups. Barbie shows kids how to be a programmer right now.

Mattel's giving Barbie more of a science twist right as the toy industry is seeing an increased demand in STEM toys, which encourage kids to explore concepts of science, technology, engineering and math. There's also a rise in STEM subscription boxes, for which parents pay a flat rate to get a new educational toy every month. 

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Barbie has a cluttered desktop -- just like the rest of us.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Barbie has a unique role to play in this trend. After all, Barbie is not just any doll. The toy icon spent decades capturing the culture of our times, but also our aspirations. In the '60s, she was an astronaut before the first man landed on the moon. In the '70s she won gold as an Olympic skier. In the '80s she was a rock star. In the '90s she served in multiple military branches, played professional sports, got the corner executive office and yet still found time to be a rap star.

Barbie ran for president several times, had a stint as a reality TV star, and in the last decade was a computer programmer, video game developer, scientist, paleontologist and even went to Mars

Mattel has the potential to shape the future with science-focused Barbies, as girls can be inspired to see themselves in STEM jobs -- an area underrepresented by women. The National Center for Women and Information Technology highlights stats from the past two years: Women make up 26 percent of computing jobs. Women make up 19 percent of computer science bachelor's degrees. And women make up 17 percent of the Fortune 500 CIO positions.

"We always have this issue in how do we get more females involved in engineering and STEM and technical skills," said Mattel's chief technology officer, Sven Gerjets. "For us it was give them the inspiration, let them know they can do this, and then give them some steps to get them started. So we know that they progressively grow and they are the employees that we hire in the next decade to fill the STEM-type jobs that are so critical."

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"But will the software update be ready in time for CES?"

Sarah Tew/CNET

Mattel partnered with Tynker to create free coding lessons that star the new Robotics Engineer Barbie. A tutorial teaches you how to animate a robot on the screen by snapping together puzzle-shaped commands. It's the latest Tynker Hour of Code activity, and it's designed to be simple enough for kindergarteners to use.

Mattel also has an e-book workbook for $7.99 called "Code Camp for Barbie and Friends." It goes over concepts of computer programming by showing kids how coding relates to everyday life and problem-solving in various careers.

The workbook is a vast improvement from Barbie's last computer science book. You may remember the internet outrage over the 2010 picture book, "I Can Be a Computer Engineer." In it, Barbie reveals she needs boys to do coding for her -- and needs boys to fix her computer from a virus. It wasn't a good look for Barbie, and Mattel apologized for how she was portrayed. 

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Plastic robot accessory doesn't look to be equipped with artificial intelligence (yet).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Mattel had Barbie jump into coding again in 2016 as a video game developer, and today she's programming robots. But it won't be the last of her tech jobs. Mattel says you can expect more STEM careers from Barbie -- and perhaps she'll come with more educational activities. 

"We've always been about inspiring little girls in believing they can do things they couldn't do before," Gerjets said. "I think what we try to do differently this time is to give them some steps toward the career, to sort of close that dream gap."

Originally published June 26 at 9 a.m. ET.
Update, 12:09 p.m. ET: Added price for coding workbook.

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