HEXNUB – MAKERS OF ROBOTIC TOY ACCESSORIES
The vast majority of the most popular toys over recent years have been robotic. From electronic toys with pre-programmed animations, like some Hatchimals models, to impressive robot sidekicks like Cozmo, robotic toys are everywhere. But robot toys are not anything new. From the wind up tin robots of the 70’s, to the Furby storm of the 90s, robots have always had a place in any toy box. But what is new, is the technology behind these robotic toys.
Everywhere you look, you’ll see technology. From the way we communicate, to the way we monitor our health, technology plays a major role in daily life. So it’s no real surprise that the robotic toys available, are more advanced than ever before. And as children are the future generation, it is essential that they have a good understanding of technology. This has led to another fascinating development: the role of robotic toys in education.
Robotic toys in schools
Technology is now a vital part of every business, and all public services. As a result, it is more important than ever to prepare the next generation. They will need to use a range of IT based systems, and to solve a range of technological problems. Probably on a daily basis. This is why robotic toys are becoming a staple part of every classroom.
Robotic toys are fun and educational, and this can really help consolidate children’s learning experiences. Robots that can be programmed to perform a range of actions, are a great way to engage young minds with complex, abstract situations and problems. As a result, an increasing number of companies are producing robotic toys with schools and educators as the primary target audience. This is instead of the children themselves. These robotic toys are specifically designed to meet curriculum criteria for classrooms. But they are also fun and engaging to keep children motivated and engaged.
Some of the most popular robotic toys in schools include:
Dash and Dot, are robots specifically targeted at a younger audience, to get children interested in coding. Made with bright colors, these robots are designed to be big and tactile, for youngsters to easily interact with. With an appealing “eye” in the front of the spherical body, these robots look like cute alien/robot hybrids. And they are sure to get any classroom excited.
Robotic toys at home
It’s also important to consider the robotic toys that are designed specifically for the primary users, children. These toys tend to be larger, or more expensive, and designed to truly capture attention. In fact, some robotic toys are designed to encourage children to look beyond the engineering, and the processes, and focus on the magic of technology.
While these robotic toys are brimming with fun features and games, they are also incredibly educational. As children grow up, the range of gadgets and electronic equipment they interact with, will also continue to grow. And forming a familiarity with a range of systems, and devices, will help to prepare children for the future. So whether it’s a remote control robotic toy, or a construction puzzle featuring electronic parts, any robotic toy can be educational.
In addition, many of the robotic toys designed for use at home, also include an option for programming and coding. This usually involves using a companion app, which makes programming easier to access. It is also usually more appealing to begin to understand, designed specifically for children. Education after all, takes place primarily through play.
Some of the most popular robotic toys for homes include:
For a robotic toy kit that will keep you and your child occupied for hours, the LEGO BOOST is a great option. For ages 7-12 (and upwards) this LEGO kit is not just a construction project, although that is part of the fun. The BOOST kit is also a great introduction to engineering and coding. With 5 different models to build, and more than 860 blocks, parts and pieces, children can have great fun creating the prescribed characters, or building their own instead.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. The companion LEGO BOOST app uses a block based programming environment to get your model moving. Each of the five robots has its own set of connected blocks and coding options, and these provide a progressive challenge. As you achieve more coding targets, you will unlock even more commands to program with. This transforms coding into a fun game that will ultimately improve the experience of the LEGO BOOST product.
Cozmo is a groundbreaking robotic toy that uses AI technology to come to life, and recognize you. Roaming around your desk or floor, performing tricks, or playing one of the many games available with his three cubes, Cozmo is always on the move and looking for fun. That’s why so many youngsters find him captivating and engaging.
His expressive LED eyes help too! Cozmo has face recognition technology so he can recognize you and say hi. But Cozmo isn’t just a robotic toy for games, tricks and all round fun. He’s also a robotic toy that can be programmed easily, using the CodeLab feature. This is a block based programming environment, that also features a sandbox mode, and walk-through tutorials. As a result, children of any age can engage with their Cozmo, and create custom programs. Children can even make their own games using the CodeLab! Their imagination is the only limit. And for the more advanced, or the older Cozmo users, Cozmo can be programmed from a laptop or computer using the SDK and Python programming language.
Robotic toys and learning to code
As mentioned earlier, many contemporary robotic toys are able to be programmed. Consequently, these toys can act as an effective way to introduce coding and programming to a young audience. There is nothing more rewarding than watching your favorite robot toy act out a piece of code you have programmed yourself. Especially as a young child. That’s why many robotic toys offer a range of different coding options. From simple visual systems, to text based programming, children can learn that robots will act out a series or sequence of events, based on an input, however simple. This is essential for forming a deep understanding of the role of programming, and robotics control. Many of the coding options available for robotic toys include:
- card or bar-codes
- path following
- block coding
- text based programming languages
Card or bar-codes
One of the most simple ways to program a robot is using a card system. The popular Boxer robot is not programmable as such, but it does come with a set of cards. These cards can be used to alter the behavior and play of the robot, for different games and features. Although this doesn’t involve any actual programming, it is a great way to help children understand how machines can follow instructions. The Edison Robot also offers a similar feature, which uses bar-codes. The robot is moved over the bar-code, and then performs a set of actions related to the information it has received. For young children, this can be a perfect introduction to programming.
Another easy way to program any robot is by drawing a path, in app, for the robot to follow in real life. Sphero
provides a draw option as part of the Sphero Edu app, and MiP also provides the option for path following as part of the MiP companion app. This is great for beginning to understand how robots work, and what they can do. And by building different mazes in the real world, path following can offer a challenge to any age group.
Block coding is the most popular coding option for robotic toys. Cozmo, Dot/Dash/Cue, Sphero, MiP, and Edison all use block coding as a programming option. This is a visual programming environment that is easy for younger students to get used to, with many of the blocks being color coded. Once they are accustomed to the programming environment, there is no limit to the complexity of code that they can produce. From if/else statements, to Boolean logic, variables and even functions, high level programming can be performed in a block coding environment.
Text based programming languages
Industry leading robotic toy companies
As with any industry, there are always those companies that are paving the way for the future with innovative solutions and technology. In terms of robotic toys, these industry leading companies undoubtedly include Sphero and Anki.
Robotic toys from Sphero:
Sphero have dominated the robotic toys in education field for a number of years. From the original white Sphero, to the latest Sphero BOLT, Sphero products have been a big hit with a wide range of schools. The product range includes:
Sphero Ollie is still as popular today as it was on release way back in 2014! With a fast driving speed, this robot is designed for racing, and for tricks, both inside and out, and is a whole lot of fun. You can even personalize your Ollie with custom tires that can improve both outdoor, and indoor performance.
Designed for use in schools and classrooms, as well as at home, the Sphero SPRK+ is a fully programmable, transparent robot ball, compatible with the Sphero Play and Sphero Edu apps. With programmable sensors like motor encoders, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope, the SPRK+ provides a wide range of learning opportunities and numerous coding experiences. Initially released in 2016, the SPRK+ replaced an earlier model, the SPRK, with more up to date and effective Bluetooth capabilities, and a more durable shell for use in the classroom. To protect the shell further, from scratches and chips, it’s a good idea to choose a specially designed Hexnub or EXO cover. This will add traction, and protection, to your SPRK+, and it makes it much easier to tell one robot from another, which is often much needed in a classroom environment!
The Sphero Mini is a micro version of the other Sphero models, and is about the size of a ping pong ball, rather than a baseball. However, despite it’s small size, this small robot is still powerful. It is fully programmable, with a range of sensors to access and code with in the Sphero EDU app. And it’s also compatible with the Sphero Play app, for driving, games and fun. With a “pop-open” shell, the Sphero Mini can be customized with different shell covers, and you can also purchase protective cases for your Sphero Mini to hold your bowling pins and cones, USB cable, and the Mini itself. This mini robot ball is a fraction of the price of the larger Sphero models, and this makes it a perfect choice for schools looking to save money on the STEM budget.
Sphero BOLT is the most recent Sphero product, released in September 2018. With this robot, the company firmly cemented themselves as the leading, educational, robotic toy specialists. The target audience for BOLT include schools and education, and it’s primary focus is programming.
Sphero BOLT is a step up from the SPRK+, with a wider range of sensors including light sensors, a gyroscope, accelerometer, motor encoders, as well as infrared emitters and receivers. In fact the BOLT has more sensors than any other Sphero product to date! But the most impressive feature of the Sphero BOLT, is the fully programmable 8×8 LED Matrix. This alone brings endless coding opportunities for any young developer. Sphero BOLT can also use the infrared emitters and receivers to send messages to other BOLTS, and this is a fantastic way to explore swarm robotics too. Like it’s predecessor, the SPRK+, Sphero BOLT is strong and durable, as well as waterproof, so you can even take it for a swim! For additional protection, you might want to consider the Lightening Cover, specially designed to protect your Sphero BOLT.
One to watch
But Sphero haven’t finished yet. Not by a long shot! Sphero have a new product, to be released later this year called the RVR. This is a rover style robot designed to not only be fully programmable itself, but to also be programmable with Raspberry Pi, Arduino and MicroBit, so you can add any circuits or sensors you want. RVR has the potential to turn into anything you need. From a robot security camera, roaming your home autonomously, to a mobile weather station measuring wind speed, the possibilities are quite literally, endless.
This robot looks like it has great potential for hobbyists and robot enthusiasts, as well as for schools and education, where this robot could be useful for all levels and abilities, up to college/university and beyond. It’s the first programmable robot, that also offers hardware “hacking” as it’s product design, and it’s something that here at Hexnub, we are really excited to discover.
Robotic toys from Anki:
If Sphero are dominating the educational robot market, Anki are industry leaders when it comes to robotic toys and AI. Their earlier product, Overdrive, applied AI technology to a traditional Scalextric style race track, to create a unique and exciting racing game. But it’s the robot toys they have developed that have really secured their position and popularity. In fact, Cozmo was named Best Selling Toy in 2017, and Anki have ranked in Fast Company’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies for the last 4 consecutive years! Their robot products include Cozmo and Vector.
Cozmo is designed to be a fun loving robot friend. And this little robot is always on the lookout for fun and adventure. In fact, Cozmo even prompts his human(s) to play games or fist bump, as soon as he recognizes them. Yep, this little robot has face recognition, so he can say hi to the whole family, even the dog or cat!
This app-enabled robot is cute, endearing and fun, as well as being 100% programmable, both with the in-app CodeLab feature for block coding, and the Cozmo SDK for Python programming. The more you interact with Cozmo, the more tricks and games he will unlock and “learn”. This means that the more you interact, the more fun you can have. And Cozmo is even happy on his own, stacking and moving his three cubes. Released in 2016 in the US, Cozmo remains just as popular today. And there are a range of accessories you can now choose from to customize your Cozmo, and enhance the play experience. Custom Trax can help to provide more traction, and allow you to personalize your bot. And a LEGO compatible forklift platform system opens up a whole new range of play and programming opportunities.
Building on the success of Cozmo, Anki released Vector at the end of 2018. This is the first home robot of it’s kind, able to act as a true robot sidekick for his human companions. The Vector robot might look similar to his older brother, but he is very different when directly compared to Cozmo. The same face recognition capabilities as Cozmo, are used by Vector, although he can store more faces. However, instead of a robot designed for games and fun, Vector is a helpful smart robot. Vector will answer a range of questions, set timers, find out the weather, and even take photographs. He also likes to roam around the desk, play with his toy cube, and generally be curious and engaging.
Bursting with personality, Vector offers something different to the robotic toy industry, aimed at a slightly older audience. But Vector is still a useful learning tool. Vector offers SDK access which allows users to create their own programs using Python. Vector has also teamed up with Alexa, so anything Vector cant do, just ask Alexa instead. Alexa is a free, entirely optional part of Vector’s software that can add a whole host of new features, as well as routines, extending Vectors capabilities. And with a range of Vector Trax available, you can add grip, control and traction, as well as personality, to your favorite home robot.
Customizing your robotic toys
With the increasing number of robotic toys available, hardware customization and personalization is becoming increasingly popular. After all, what use is a robot sidekick if you can’t customize it to be as individual as you are? For schools and educators this is also a key feature, as it helps to distinguish one robot from another, especially when dividing the robots between classrooms or groups of students.
However, hardware customization isn’t all about style. It can also be incredibly practical. From larger wheels to tackle tough terrain, to shock absorbent material to protect the electronic components, hardware customization can make any robotic toy even better. In fact, some customization options will even allow the user to add to the robot, improving the robots capabilities. This is what we specialize in here at Hexnub.
Hexnub enhances your robotic toys and gives them more ‘personality’ through hardware customization, allowing you to protect and customize your favorite smart toys.
Some of the customization products we provide include:
- Specially designed covers for a range of different Sphero products, including the BOLT Lightening cover. Thesecovers are designed to increase traction and improve the driving experience, while also adding a personal touch to your robot.
- Tracks created just for Vector, your autonomous home robot. These are available in a range of colors, and offer increased style as well as traction.
- A lifting kit for Cozmo, the leading robotic toy. This slots into Cozmo’s lift, adding a platform that is LEGO compatible, and a whole lot of fun.
- Tracks created just for Cozmo to add style and practical benefits.
Our company timeline
So, who are the team at Hexnub? And how did we get started in this industry? Well, this is our company timeline:
- 2013 – We started out, way back in 2013. At this time, the Sphero and the Sphero 2.0 were incredibly popular, taking the robotics and STEM education toy market by storm. At this time, Lee and Olly were working in the F1 automotive industry for Renault Sport racing. Lee as a modelmaker, with hands on manufacturing experience and Olly as a wind tunnel technician with a background in electronic engineering. As big fans of gadgets, tech and toys they were inspired by the Sphero ball and excited at the potential for customizing them – A new idea was created, the Hexnub Cover for Sphero and Sphero 2.0 and our micro business was born.
The name Hexnub was based on our original product, the Hexnub cover, simply combining the shape “Hex” together with the “nubs” making Hexnub, this name stuck and has been with us ever since.
- 2014- We spent a lot of 2014 researching and testing a range of robotic toys, which was great fun being big toy/tech fans ourselves. We also created our Amazon business working part-time.
- 2015- Sphero were the market leaders in app-enabled smart toys during 2015, and one of the stand out products to us was the Sphero Ollie. The Ollie appealed to us as it had big potential for customization with removable parts. We designed and manufactured the Sphero Ollie Monster Tyres and Stunt Hubs which were a big hit worldwide. Additionally we added the Explorer bag for carrying your robots in, all 3 products tied our brand together and started to give us some good credibility among our followers. We tried a number of projects, one included the Aqua Cover (design for driving on water) for the Sphero Ball 2.0, but we soon ran into problems with weight and buoyancy.
- 2016- Lee and Olly both enjoy playing with RC toys including quad-copters/drones. We took the opportunity to become a stockist of some very cool Mini drones and a few carefully selected gadgets/toys which we tested out. Although we enjoyed distributing this tech, we wanted to be more creative and the focus came back to what we know and love the most “Robotic smart toys” and ways in which we could customize them.
Customizing robotic smart toys is our area of expertise!
- 2017- Olly left full-time employment at Renault F1 Team to help grow the Hexnub business full-time. In this time we made the Cozmo Trax Pack, a fan favourite, and could see the potential for future customization for Cozmo.
- 2018- Lee left full-time employment at Renault F1 Team and we designed the Cozmo Lifting Kit, Sphero Bolt Lighting Cover and Vector Trax Pack, these all launched around the end of Dec 2018.
- 2019- We have 5 more exiting ideas in the pipeline that should be ready to launch within the next 6 months.
- With feedback from our fans overseas, we’re excited to announce that we’ll soon be partnering up with global distributors – which will help bring the Hexnub products to even more countries!
Robotic toys are the past, present and future. If you’re wondering where to start, or which robot to choose, check out our top picks for 2019.