I’m always searching for ways to get my kids interested in coding and other certified geek activities that I wish I’d had a chance to learn in my younger years. You know, when my brain was supple and spry. The good news is that there are tons of really cool toys coming out that can serve as kid size gateways to the world I didn’t discover until early adulthood.
One such toy is the Ozobot. I’ve been intending to write a review for a long time, but every time I sit down to write it, I end up playing with it instead (Today is the day. I’m going to actually write it). When Ozobot said they would be sending me a couple to try, I immediately went to YouTube and started watching videos of them. By the time they got here I had built up the hype in my house. A lot.
I might have gone as far as passing them off as a birthday present to my (now) five year old. I also might have commandeered them during his birthday party—for testing purposes, you see.
So, finally, here’s the gist of it.
What is the Ozobot?
It’s a tiny little robot that follows lines and senses colors, and can interpret certain sequences of colors into commands. Ozobot provides a super fun and engaging way to get your kids (ahem…and possibly yourself) hooked on robotics and coding.
How does it work?
Ozobot keeps exploring and plugging along, as long as he has a line or a command to follow. There are three ways to play.
Drawing: You create your own Ozobot paths and games armed with nothing more than markers, and white paper. When he comes to an intersection without a command to go a certain way, he will decide for himself which way to turn, and keep on keeping on. Ozobot has sensors on his underside that recognize color sequences and interprets them into commands as he goes. By adding color sequences to the Ozobot’s path you can tell him where to go and what to do. You can control his speed, the direction he turns, make him go off the lines, spin, zigzag, u-turn, set his timer to turn off, etc. This was, by far, our favorite way to play. Maybe it’s because my son is just barely five years old, but this seemed to be the easiest thing for him to grasp.
Tablet: Ozobot has several–free–apps (iOS and Android) that can make the play more challenging. You can compete against other players to get the Ozobot to your finish before he gets to theirs, or teach him to dance, or do brainteasers that require you to put the right codes in the right places to get Ozobot to the finish. *You need at least a 9 inch tablet to play this way.
Hybrid: you can incorporate both the tablet and your paper and markers to make a bigger more complex labyrinth for Ozobot to explore.
Now for The Big Question: Is it as cool as it sounds?
Yes, but there’s a little bit of a learning curve. When we got them out of the box the first couple times, we didn’t get the results we were hoping for. We had to try several different techniques before settling on the best way to get them to obey our commands. The Ozobot website gives tips, but you have to put them in practice to get the right balance.
Lines need to be nice and thick, and far enough apart that the Ozobot is only touching one at a time. Example: the maze shown above did not work very well. Also, the codes need to be long enough that Ozobot senses the color shifts, but short enough that Ozobot doesn’t just think he’s cruising on a different colored line.
Also, using whiteout to add a code to an existing line doesn’t work very well. So don’t do it.
I find that I enjoy drawing the codes, more than doing tablet play, probably because I like to play Ozobot with my five year-old, and that’s what he likes to do. He loves deciding what paths to create and where to put codes, but doesn’t quite have the fine motor skills necessary to draw codes that Ozobot recognizes. So, he tells me what codes to do, and I color that part for him. We got a huge roll of white paper and spread it out over a large desk to make a really big maze. Oh, the fun. Especially when Brax had the idea to create a path using the letters of his name. Oh the hours of fun he had watching little robots tracing his name over, and over, and over, and over. I also encourage literacy, so it made me happy, too.
Which brings me to the next question–Is it fun?
My son loves to race Ozobots on the courses we design. He gets excited when he sees Ozobot read and follow new codes because Ozobot doesn’t always recognize the codes. I enjoy playing with them as well, and it gives me a good excuse to spend time with my boy. I think Ozobot would be perfect for kids slightly older than my preschooler, but as long as you are willing to help your child, age is immaterial. Well, I take that back. If your kid is still in the stuff-everything-in-the-mouth stage, that might not be good. We’ve kept things pretty simple, but you can make things much more interesting for more advanced users.
Still, I would definitely recommend them to anyone who is looking for a way to introduce coding and robotics to their kids, or simply want a fun toy, an educational toy, or a toy appropriate for a wide age range.
Also of note: It has won all sorts of awards, like the CES editors choice award and the Dr. Toy award. If you care about that kind of thing.
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