As you know from decades of watching sci-fi movies, robots come in two metallic flavors: Helpful manservants that speak with an affected British accent or psychotic murder machines sent back from the future to kill John Conner. But there are booming new categories that are going to benefit your child: educational robots for kids, robot toys for kids, and coding robots that can teach them everything from ping-pong to social skills.
If you’re looking to start the robot revolution in your own home, here are some consumer models that are programmed to be cool.
Marty The Robot
Part toy, part DIY STEM project, Marty The Robot is a walking mini-bot that your young Anakin Skywalker can build from a kit. Depending on their age, they’ll pick up all kinds of science-y stuff about electronics, mechanics, and the basics of computer programming using languages like Scratch and Python. The robot building kit includes 36 parts (motors, sensors, and a control board) and requires no tools or soldering to complete. There’s a literal spring in Marty’s step, as he used 2 coils to support his weight, and three motors to move forward, backward, and side-to-side. That means your kid can walk with him, practice soccer dribbling, and even have a dance off. (What are the odds his best move is the robot?)
You like Siri. You two have gotten along ever since she started giving you turn-by-turn directions and telling you how many milliliters are in an ounce. But lately her personality seems a little flat. Enter Cozmo from Anki, a tiny robot for kids reminiscent of Wall-E, who makes good on the promise that robots with soon be imbued with genuine human emotions. Not only can Cozmo recognize you from you kid, get sassy when you’re not paying attention, or be cute when you are, it can play games with the included Power Blocks. Or you can just get it to clean up after that Boston Dynamics dog.
Ziro is a robot-building kit that replaces a traditional screen-based UI with a gesture-based one. The Pro Kit comes with four card deck-sized motorized modules, an app, and the “smart glove.” Each module has two functions: A 360-degree rotation that can be used to drive wheels and a hinge function that can be used to slingshot things at your dog. The kit also has parts to construct a rover and a trike, but Ziro is meant to be a platform for all sorts of DIY robots. Go ahead and make a cardboard R2-D2 that’s so cool, Disney might not even sue Ziro over it (emphasis on might). All of this is controlled by dramatically waving your hand.
At four feet tall, with 1200+ parts and 10 motors powering articulated limbs, the only thing more fun than building this robot for kids is playing with it. It’s programmable through learned intelligent motion or motion capture, has voice recognition, and comes preloaded with 1000+ phrases, facts, jokes, and dance moves. All that, with a face like Johnny 5 and a name like Jambi’s catchphrase. That brain spasm you just felt is 1986 you losing his damn mind.
Dash & Dot
Dash & Dot are a pair of adorable, programmable robots that can build, make music, or just drive around looking festive in reindeer antlers and Santa hats, because they’re LEGO-compatible. Coding the bots to do their bidding helps kids understand that computers are actually machines that people build to do what they want, not just sentient hunks of metal that wreak havoc out of the box. Not yet, anyway.
Sphero SPRK Edition
SPRK — which stands for Schools, Parents, Robots, Kids — does all the app-controlled spinning, jumping, and R2D2 attitude-flipping that the original Sphero does, but ups the ante in two significant ways. First, it lets kids start coding without any prior experience simply by dragging and dropping visual blocks in an app (iOS, Android) that controls elements like speed, heading, and spin. Second, SPRK features a transparent shell, so they can literally see how their programs translate to the ball’s robotics. SPRK is also compatible with all the original Sphero games and apps, so simply switching it to drive mode and terrorizing the cat is a-okay. Learning should be fun, after all.
These blocks snap together using magnets and ball-bearings to form thousands of robots. Kids as young as four can build robots (and their understanding of larger systems) with Cubelets, while MOSS kits offer more complex robot builds that older kids can program to respond to light and proximity. Consider these the ghosts of Lego future, after the robots have taken over and blocks have evolved.
LittleBits Gizmos And Gadgets
Feel like taking a crack at building your own automaton? LittleBits are electronic building block kits full of buttons, triggers, switches, wires, batteries, motors, LEDs, and more (the “Bits”) to encourage your kid (the “Little”) to invent all the things. This robot building kit was dubbed “The ultimate invention toolbox” because its 60+ parts can create 12 included inventions — among them a “Bubblebot,” pinball machine, and RC car — plus hundreds more online. All those hours of creativity and distraction should excite you more than a little bit.
Lego Mindstorms EV3 31313
Maybe one robot isn’t enough for you. Leave it to the folks at Lego to solve that problem, with assembly required. The Lego Mindstorms EV3 31313 set has instructions for building 17 different robots. If that’s not enough, it also comes with programs for each robot and software for tablets and computers for your kid to program the robots yourself.
Say you can’t pick a robot. UBTECH may be the best place to start looking. There’s Jimu, a robot you can build and code. Or Lynx, a robot with a motion sensor that can record video and send it to your smart phone. If your kid is a Star Wars fan, you can get the Stormtrooper robot, with facial recognition technology and gameplay. Just be ready to say no imperial marching around the house.
OWI Robotic Arm Edge
You can assemble this robotic arm with your kid and start playing with it. It’s wrist can move 120 degrees and it’s elbow can move 300 degrees. The base rotates, too. This robotic arm is sure to grab your kid’s attention (pun intended).