The easiest way to get kids interested in robots is to show them Star Wars, but that’s admittedly a limited experience. The next best thing might be Sphero’s new kid-friendly robot called indi which can be programmed using simple coloured tiles dropped on the floor, or a mobile app as kids further develop their programming skills.
Does every child need to grow up with proficiency in robot design and engineering? Of course not, that’s inevitably a job that will also be taken over by robots, but that’s not really what indi is for. A kid who spends their childhood playing with a toy like this isn’t going to show up at a grade five science fair with a bot comparable to Boston Dynamics’ ATLAS. However, indi will help foster problem-solving skills, teach pattern recognition and concepts like cause and effect, and even reinforce basic kindergarten curriculum like colours.
More importantly, as any parent who’s just endured the pandemic will attest, is the fact that indi works right out of the box without requiring a smartphone or tablet app to get it going, or to access any of its functionality. It can be a zero screentime educational toy if a parent or instructor wants, which also helps to keep kids active as they chase the little car around a room.
Instead of hammering away at cryptic code, indi’s actions are determined by a collection of tiles that are detected by a colour sensor located on the underside of the tiny vehicle. Each tile tells indi to do something different, whether it’s making 90 or 45-degree left and right turns, slowing down, accelerating, or stopping completely. Depending on the placement of the tiles, indi could potentially navigate an entire classroom or home, and figuring out how to make it do that is the challenge that kids will, at least in theory, love figuring out.
For slightly older kids who know their way around a mobile app, indi can also be programmed using the new Sphero Edu Jr app which utilises simple drag-and-drop programming blocks that can be chained together to create more complex movements and behaviours. It will also further challenge kids with puzzles that get harder and harder to solve as a child progresses and begins to master the robotics and programming concepts being presented.
The bot won’t be available until September, but indi can be pre-ordered today in one of two kits: the $US125 ($160) Sphero indi Educational Robot Student Kit which includes a single robot, 20 silicone colour tiles, 15 programming challenge cards, and a protective case, or the $US1,200 ($1,539) Sphero indi Education Robot Class Pack, designed for schools, which includes eight of everything (160 silicone tiles in all) plus a larger case that can charge all the robots in one fell swoop.