4 robots that aim to teach your kids to code, but at a hefty price

AP
If you're in the market for a coding robot that teaches and maybe even entertains, here's a look at four recommendations. 
AP

You’ve seen apps and toys that promise to teach your child to code. Now enter the robots.

At the CES electronics show in January, coding robots came out in force. One convention hall area was packed with everything from chip-embedded, alphabet-like coding blocks to turtle-like tanks that draw on command.

Of course, no one can really say how well these coding bots teach kids, or even whether learning to code is the essential life skill that so many in the tech industry claim.

After all, by the time today’s elementary-school kids are entering the workforce, computers may well be programming themselves.

So if you’re in the market for a coding robot that teaches and maybe even entertains, here’s a look at four recommendations. None are cheap.

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The “Cubetto” block on wheels

Cubetto

London-based Primo Toys, the makers of this mobile wooden block, believes kids can learn coding concepts at age 3 before they can even read. And they don’t even need a screen.

The “Cubetto” block on wheels responds to where chip-embedded pieces are put on a wooden board. Different colors represent different commands — for example, to “go straight” or “turn left.”

Pros: Good for parents who want to avoid more screens

Cons: Doesn’t offer an immediate path to real coding.

Price: US$226

Shipping: Now

Online: www.primotoys.com

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The Root robot

Root

Root Robotics’ flattish, hexagonal droid has downward-facing scanners, magnetic wheels, touch-reactive panels, lights, motion sensors, and a pen-grabbing hole in the center of its body.

Controlling it does require a screen.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts, company also claims kids don’t need to be able to read and can start playing with Root at age 4.

Root draws, moves, sees and reacts to touch and various other commands. Kids can use Root to start drawing lines and progress to creating snowflake-like mathematical patterns called fractals.

Co-founder Zee Dubrovsky says his daughter began coding with Root at age 4.

Pros: Sturdy frame; kids can progress from graphical block-based codes to text coding.

Cons: Requires lots of clean, flat surface area, preferably whiteboards. Root has three difficulty levels, some of which wade into deeper math, so parental time commitment could be considerable.

Price: US$199

Shipping: June 2018 (although the company has been working to fulfill Kickstarter orders since May 2017)

Online: www.codewithroot.com

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Cozmo

Cozmo

This bundle of personality on wheels debuted in 2016. It now comes with an app called Code Lab, which allows kids to drag and drop blocks of code that control its movements and animations.

They can even access facial and object recognition functions enabled by Cozmo’s front-facing camera.

Cozmo, recommended for kids aged 8 and up, looks like a little tractor and can pick up interactive cubes, which are included.

Part of its appeal are the twitches and tweets that make it seem like an energetic pet.

Pros: Its expressive eyes and movements make it seem like a little R2-D2.

Cons: Because it’s so full of personality, there might be a disconnect between programming it to do things and just letting it be itself.

Price: US$180

Shipping: Now

Online: www.anki.com/en-us/cozmo

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Ozobot Evo

Evo

This dome-shaped, wheeled dynamo about the height of a few fingers looks for direction right out of the box — and comes equipped to follow around any finger placed before its front camera.

“We want kids to immediately engage with a robot,” said Nader Hamda, founder and CEO of Evo’s maker, Redondo Beach, California-based Ozobot. The robot makes sounds, flashes lights, moves and can sense and react to its environment.

The bot’s downward facing scanners also let it follow lines drawn on regular paper, some of which embody coding instructions. For instance, blue-black-blue gets it to speed up; green-red-green-red tells it to spin.

Pros: It’s cheaper than other coding bots.

Cons: It doesn’t do quite as much as other bots.

Price: US$89

Shipping: Now

Online: www.ozobot.com


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