Reviewed by Alexander Wilde
Our children are surrounded by technology and one of the main questions parents grapple with is ‘how do you provide opportunities for our little ones to embrace, enjoy and learn from it as part of a balanced and healthy childhood?’ Activities which are less about passive content consumption through screens or gimmicky gadgets, that provide only a few hours of entertainment, and more about fostering creativity and skills which will benefit them long-term.
Making technological play and learning purposeful is no easy feat, however Robo Wunderkind have developed the perfect product and I am thrilled to be reviewing their Explorer Prime robotics kit and companion coding apps. Testing this tech with me is my 7 year old daughter. This is her first experience of robotics and coding and I am excited to see what she enjoys and learns. We very much prefer low tech toys, think Lego, to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) learning, and don’t want tech to distract from the simple pleasures of life.
Robo Wunderkind is a young, innovative Austrian company who are quickly gaining a worldwide repetition for making award-winning robotic kits that empower children to learn to code through the joy of play. All of the companies robots are modular, which allow a variety of robust colour-coded building blocks to be interconnected to create countless projects. The individual components arrived well packaged in a single sleek box.
We began by following the clear and colourful Welcome Guide. The toy does require a tablet or phone and we were directed to download the free Robo Live Apple App (also available on Google Play) to our iPad. Robo Live is the simplest of the three companion apps and served as a brilliant introduction to the controls and functions of the various blocks. A very quick firmware update was required when we first switched on the Main Block; the largest of all the modules this device provides the power for all other modules and produces the sound. It is recharged via a micro-usb. Once we had connected the Main Block to the iPad via bluetooth, we chose to build the trike. The visual instructions were superb, allowing my daughter to manipulate the 3D model on screen and virtually see how the pieces connected by zooming in and out. Cleverly, as we docked individual blocks the app registered them as connected on the screen. After, the pieces had been assembled we progressed to the play board. This was basically a giant control panel pre-populated with various controls for the trike. My daughter found this to be highly intuitive and it began to reveal to me its intelligent design and smart features. The controls on the screen were colour matched to the blocks… orange for sounds as the Main Block, blue for the Smart Motors controlling the wheels, yellow for the RGB Light… When she pressed the play icon, the controls were ‘live’ and she enjoyed whizzing the trike around the lounge floor and around obstacles. The motors had plenty of torque and the large wheels provided stability over carpet, laminate and rugs. She quickly figured out that once she stopped play, she could rearrange the control board and drag and drop additional functions for her vehicle. Control by joystick and the chicken sound effect were welcome additions on her next jaunt, the emanations and flashing light fascinating her baby brother on every pass.
For the next few days, her confidence and enjoyment continued to grow. She completed the projects in Robo Live and branched out into building her own vehicles and devices, happily swapping controls. Experimenting with the red distance sensor was fun and provided an opportunity for tangible Mathematics. The blocks are sturdy and fit together perfectly. The slimmer Universal Connectors are harder to unplug, however you are provided with a Disconnection Tool – designed for small hands. The kit also comes with four Lego adaptors so you can customise your model using any of the ubiquitous bricks and pieces; for more advanced users Lego Technic pieces can be slotted into the blocks for advanced mechanical marvels. So far these options have gone untouched, such is the playability in its original form.
At the latter end of the week, we progressed to building projects using the Robo Code app and this where the programming adventure began. Depending on which modules are connected to the Main Block, the app provides you with various colour coded icons which perform a real world output. A simple example would be once we drag & dropped the car horn sound icon and ran the code, the robot would emit that noise. As we added more actions to the canvas, we could combine them into a sequence of events using the connection mode. The robot was now honking and reversing every time it got too close to an object. As the code ran, it highlighted on screen which action was being executed. My daughter found this very useful when refining what she wanted to happen. Through self-led exploration, she found out that you could execute multiple actions at once. I loved how she could discover this independently and use her findings to further test and reason logically. Additionally, being able to save and name her Custom Projects was great – this provided her with templates and ideas to return to and fine-tune. I must admit that after she went to bed, I continued to play with the app – discovering additional triggers and settings, including applying and/or logic to sequences. I also downloaded the third app, Robo Blockly, for my own pleasure. Older primary school children are likely to be familiar with this Scratch-esque interface. Whichever app you are using, the programming opportunities are certainly limitless!
One week later and we have barely scratched the surface of possibilities! I know this toy will continue to engage, empower and nurture creativity in my daughter and I can’t wait to watch her tech literacy grow with Robo Wunderkind. The only thing that could be improved is if other components were sold separately, or an option to build your own order – there are other displays and sensors I would like to try without purchasing another full kit.
The company website is also incredibly informative and easy to navigate with a wealth of accessible user guides, further projects, inspirational ideas and fascinating blogs to read. I found the app ‘How-Tos’ very beneficial.
There’s a statistic that often makes headlines: “65% of children in primary schools today will work in jobs that don’t exist yet.” Whether that is plausible or not, it is very clear to me as a parent that our children are in the midst of a new digital and technological revolution. Robo Wunderkind’s Explorer Prime is the perfect toy to prepare them for this exciting future! I highly recommend this product for children and families new to coding and robotics, as well as those who are looking to take their play and learning to the next level! The endless opportunities for creative thinking, problem solving and computing make this a must buy for any child aged 5 and up!