For the last six months or so, NED's two junior product testers, my daughters (both under 4), have been trying out Botley the Coding Robot, provided by manufacturer Learning Resources. They love it so much that they constantly fight over the remote, (maybe a reason the educational toy is meant for 5 and up). But when they aren't wrestling for the controls, they are working together to position new Shopkins and Troll dolls for Botley to run over and starting to understand the cause and effect of inputting a line of code (designated by directional arrows) and what happens after they enter it by pushing the big green button. Great roboticists have to begin somewhere, and Botley has put them on possible path of a lucrative career developing Skynet or real-life Transformers. We asked Botley's inventor Michael Blaustein for more on the little blue bot.
NED: What is Botley’s main purpose?
MB: Botley is an engaging, screen-free way to introduce children as young as 5 to the fundamentals of coding—concepts like logic, sequencing, and problem-solving. Skills like these are critical to children as they prepare for careers of the 21st century.
NED: Who should use it and how?
MB: As an entry into the world of coding, Botley is great for kids as young as 5 but includes some advanced coding concepts like “if /then logic” and loops that help Botley grow with the child as they become more adept with it.
NED: Botley has a few settings (line and code). How do those fit into early training for future roboticists?
MB: The basic play, or CODE mode, when combined with the additional pieces in the set, is great for setting up challenges like obstacle courses, mazes, or other task and goal-oriented sequences. These kinds of challenges with clear objectives are often the best way to introduce coding concepts.
In LINE mode, place Botley on any thick black line and he ’ll follow it. You can have fun writing your name with a thick black marker, and hearing Botley whistle and hum as he zigs and zags along the lines. You can even cut out line segments and use them as a critical thinking exercise to plot a path for Botley to follow.
NED: What’s the most creative use of Botley you’ve seen from a school or parent/family member?
MB: We’ve seen users place paintbrushes in Botley’s removable hands and make some really amazing modern art. Being able to code to express yourself as an artist really puts that “A” in STEAM.
NED: What inspired you to make Botley, and what kind of robot/STEM toys did you have as a kid?
MB: Well, I’ve loved robots from a very early age – I still have my working Lost In Space robot! And Wall-E is a top 3 movie for me. Botley feels like he could be pals with Wall-E.
I mostly played with building blocks, model rockets, and a few other science toys. But STEM toys have come a really long way. I definitely didn’t play with anything as cool as Botley!