Generations pass but children stay the same. They are just as playful as ever, just as inquisitive, maybe even more so with the increasing scope of demands that the new digital age lays on their shoulders. Naturally, the first social interaction and coding skills are developed through the wonders of play, and a stick and a hoop simply won’t do nowadays. The game has to STEM up.
Hence the Robotic STEM toys. These little playing buddies have made quite a noise in the past few years, and for a good reason too. Not to sound too sciency, the STEM toys are designed to develop your child’s coding abilities and equip them with the skills necessary in today’s world. Also, did we mention that they are extremely fun to play with?
They certainly are, just as there’s an ocean of different toys to choose from. Having checked out many and enjoyed comparatively less, we give you a rundown of the most rewarding Robotic STEMs for the year 2018.
OK, a baseball-size blue-specked white ball isn’t anyone’s first association with robots, but give it a go; think of all the creative possibilities this little gerbil has in store.
Since Orbotix introduced its vanilla Sphero back in 2011, many heads rolled in amazement at just how inventive and downright fun the experience was. With the new upgraded version we reckon many more will, as the new Sphero 2.0 packs more speed, SMART Bluetooth control, Multicoloured LED lighting and more than 25 free apps to choose from.
Sphero 2.0 is essentially a remote controlled rolling robot that obeys every directional command issued via smartphone or tablet. This allows for endless environmental challenges to set up and overcome. Sphero 2.0 takes the ‘E’ out of ‘STEM’ and develops your child’s engineering faculty. In addition to the 25 free game apps (some hilarious ones there), with the ramps inside the package you can set up pretty much any environmental conundrum you want and decide how to solve it.
Like all remotely controlled droids, Sphero 2.0 can take some getting used to, but once your kid moderately masters it, a whole world of possibilities open up. This is also Sphero’s biggest drawcard; your child can create a world with desired level of complexity and, as time goes on, will want to build ever more complex problems to code through. Also, with new silicone Hexnub Sphero covers on the market providing better traction over all terrains, they can take their robots for a ride outside.
Sphero 2.0 is just that kind of robotic STEM toy where the limits of your child’s game is the limit of their imagination. And now with the speed of 7 mph, Sphero 2.0 leaves much of its competition in the dust.
- Unique sphere STEM toy shape
- Encourages creative use
- Progressive coding challenges
- Waterproof with LED functional lighting
- Developed lesson plan for schools
You may also be interested in: Meet the Robotic Toys that got Sphero Rolling into Classrooms
Dash and Dot
Not this one though, If anything, a new line of robotic toys from Wonder Workshop will put up a good challenge both to its competition and kids.
Dash and Dot siblings are all about imagination. Geared towards 5-10 year olds, their nondescript shape can be whatever a child renders it to be. It deliberately avoids being caged. It’s kind of circular, yet not a ball; kind of talks, but it’s not intelligible; has wheels, yet it’s nothing like a vehicle.
The sheer spectrum of coding potential makes the pair worth having. Both siblings are controlled by smartphone app, of which there are several. Each app has a set of features and challenges setting before their users. The robots can move, light up, and play music in app-controlled scenarios or, better yet, new scenarios invented by your kids. All about creativity these two.
The range of responsiveness to coding maneuvering is what sets D&D apart. The Go and Path apps allow them to move, and move according to a programmed route. Adding to the array of simple movement responses, Dash is endowed with the ability to respond to patterns by making sounds, moving its head, recognize obstacles, or execute light patents. For more auditive types there is a new Dash xylophone accessory that lets your child compose or replay songs, and then program Dash into a music and dancing virtuoso. The Wonder Workshop pair of STEM robotic toys is the prime examples of movement coding and physical response done to perfection.
If you’re willing to give these two a go, we have some good news. They’re best paired up, but you can actually get them separately. While Dash is clearly the more illustrious of the two, getting Dot is a respectable option to see whether your child is into this sort of thing, and it’s adorable too.
Apart from coming separately, there is an array of options to upgrade the experience. Dash and Dot card accessory adds hours of coding playtime to an existing set, while D&D Brick extension builds a layer of complexity by providing material to transform Dash or Dot into whatever unwieldy shape a kid might want. There’s also a D&D launcher accessory which we’ll not spoil for you, and a special Dash set designed for use in schools.
There’s more to Dash and Dot than meets the code. With built-in various environmental sensors, they are not designed to be mindlessly ordered around, but to collaborate with your child the law giver, and execute their commands in context.
- Robot toy used in over 10,000 schools
- Range of responses
- Interactive learning
It’s like having a Wall-e in your house, easy to forget that’s it’s a STEM toy. But it is, and a great one for coding at that.
Cozmo is the most anthropomorphic plaything on this list. It looks humanoid alight, but it’s better described as a quirky cross-eyed pet. Anki really went great lengths to make Cozmo come alive. It plays, it walks, eats, talks; and it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that Cozmo has, yes, a personality.
How so, you may ask. First there is the face recognition. Cozmo can remember some 10 faces and allocate names to them (with great articulation might we add). The robot also has more than a dozen emotional reactions, all dependent on the surroundings, and apparently dogs aren’t really its thing. It is these small, unexpected silly quirks it does that make this robot a pleasure to have around.
Its random exploration and hilarious voice reaction aside, Cozmo is primarily a learning toy, designed to offer novice coders a joyful learning experience. Powered by Wi-Fi and commanded by smartphone app, Cozmo comes packed with games that are sure to interest your kid’s coding self, but also offer them ^ run for their money. For Cozmo really, really hates to lose.
Due to its sheer competitiveness as a robot, Cozmo will learn something from every game. This feature is highly educational as it is fun; the more your child plays with Cozmo (and how can you not to!) the more features open up. This way they both learn in the process. Combine this with Cozmo’s nagging need to play, and you have one crack of an educational experience.
Remember though, Cozmo can be just as inquisitive as your child. Taking it to see and explore different terrains is a must. New multicolour Hexnub Trax Pack will make the traction for every terrain easier (and give Cozmo a pair of shiny new tyres), while Hexnub Adventure Bag is designed to pack Cozmo and all his myriad accessories.
- Robotic toy with great personality
- Extremely fun code learning with or against a competitive opponent
- Level of unpredictability it brings to the table
Evo and Bit
Don’t let the size fool you, though smaller then your average ping pong ball, these two are perhaps the most functional and most responsive robots on our glorified list. Fit to move on a palm of a tablet screen, Evo and Bit from Ozobot give your child the bare bones of coding experience with the fun factor rooted in logic and pen/paper commands.
Pen and paper how? Well, of all the STEM playthings here, these two are perhaps best suited for coding as it is. They have the smarts to respond to hand drawn pen and paper commands, and thus involve the physical, known world inside the more virtual world of programming. Kids can bring and transfer their real life actions into the new sphere of coding.
The differences between Evo and Bit are generational. Bit is a second generation STEM toy from Ozobot better suited for younger kids. Along with the pen/paper colour commandeering, it features OzoBlockly, a visual take on Google’s Blockly coding language. Bit reacts to lines, loops, different sounds and light changes, while Evo, the third generation Ozobot, adds a level of complexity by packing remote control. Ozobot Evo also features sort of a social element to its programming set of activities. Its app makes the ‘communication’ between two different Evos possible by exchanging the movement patterns from afar. A neat little addition from Ozobot.
This is not to say that Evo and Bit are bereft of personality. Getting the Ozobot DIY Evo Kit or DIY Bit Kit allows the kids to transform their bots into whatever silly shape they want. Bunny ears? Sure? Puppy eyes? Why not indeed? There are also various readymade cloths for the pair, these Marvel hero skins being the case in point.
- Small, pocket-size STEM robots
- Features interaction between real and virtual world
- Social interaction between Evos
- Fairly low priced
Perhaps the most counterintuitive one on our list, Edison is nevertheless a remarkable piece of robotic education tool. It belongs very much into a budget category, but features many of the things its heavier priced buddies do, and then some.
Not silky as Sphero or multi-faceted as Cozmo, Edison robot plays it simple. It’s a battery-run, two-wheel one-side vehicle that does everything expected of it (light and sound response, obstacle recognition, and barcode reading) with an additional welcoming layer of complexity. Namely, it is LEGO compatible.
Now this opens all sorts of possibilities for a young creative mind. The engines beneath the wheels are powerful enough, and can withstand the level of imagination kids may pile on top. Edison is operated via set of barcodes programmed to issue commands. Also responsive to vocal commands like claps, Edison bot very much prefers any TV or DVD remote control. Easy programming development and a rewarding, playful use with LEGO blocks are what makes Edison such a go-to.
Edison proved to be great addition in classrooms due to its customizability. And being highly affordable means that now every kid in class can operate their own robot.
- Affordable STEM toy
- Highly customizable
- Compatible with LEGO
The task we take upon ourselves as parents and educators is not to teach the kids per se, but to provide them with skills so they can better learn for themselves. Robotic toys as they have developed in the last decade or so not only give kids the edge in pursuing coding related careers later on, but improve their cognitive and computational skills overall.
This is the edge to be aimed for, and any of the STEM robotic toys above will provide children with enough coding education through playtime to cross it.