In today’s technology-heavy world, coding is all but a necessity for school-aged children. However, it’s imperative that they learn that programming is more than just feeding a bunch of commands into a computer. Learning to code teaches critical thinking skills, problem-solving, and has valuable cognitive benefits.
Recent trends show that coding is no longer prevalent just in schools, but is moving to the home as well. As a result, many toy manufacturers are providing gadgets and robots that make programming fun.
Most of these robots work with a mobile application that shows children how to combine commands to tell the toy to behave in a certain manner. The Ozobot and Sphero are two such toys, and if you have a child interested in any of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines, you might seriously consider either of these devices.
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This tiny robot is the perfect gift for younger kids interested in coding or programming. It’s about the size of a small piece of candy but has a surprising amount of functionality and fun for your child packed into it. The Ozobot (my full review here!) offers three methods to program, a fledgling peer network, and some fun with Marvel’s superheroes.
While Ozobot is not as easily recognizable as Sphero when it comes to small robotics, it has a growing following in schools thanks to its support for education and opportunities for easy implementation of lesson plans. This unique little robot is unique and portable and is the perfect choice for those wanting to learn more about coding.
The Ozobot robot is a tiny, hemispherical device, measuring about 1 ¼” in diameter. It comes in black or white and can be dressed up with OzoSkins, which are rubbery covers that give your Ozobot a different look and feel. There is no shortage of OzoSkins available on the market, so your child shouldn’t have any trouble finding one they like.
Kids really enjoy the Marvel superheroes skins, which has a wide selection. They can choose between Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, and Black Widow among others. These OzoSkins provide new missions and ways to interact with the Ozobot. The robot also includes a cardboard playfield, four markers, a carrying pouch, and a micro USB cable for charging.
The Ozobot is smaller than the Sphero, which depending on your child’s needs might be a good thing. Due to its small size, it is much more compatible when your kid is using it in situations with Legos. It has five lights on the front and one located on the top that can change colors based on programming commands. The Ozobot can also make various chittering sounds and noises.
This tiny robot has a pair of infrared proximity sensors on its front and rear, along with a color sensor that determines the surface color of the item on which it currently resides. It charges via the included USB cable, with a 15 minutes charge resulting in about 20 minutes of interaction.
Due to its small stature, there are some concerns about the durability of the Ozobot. It is prone to getting crumbs or small debris caught in its wheel, and although the robot is easy to repair, if a serious problem occurs, the warranty only covers manufacturer defects.
Three Playing Options
The Ozobot provides children with three unique and creative playing methods, all of which offer their own ways of getting kids engaged and having fun with programming.
First, the Ozobot codes by following along colored lines, which are called OzoCodes. The benefit here is that Ozobot has managed to bring coding from the virtual space and place it directly into the physical world. Kids as young as six years old find this engaging and fun.
It’s exciting to watch small children scurry around on a large piece of paper with markers coloring dashed codes which represent changes in direction, speed, or even specific challenges. The robot comes with several challenges to teach kids OzoCodes. This is usually accomplished by allowing them to fill in the codes themselves, then watch as the robot navigates the maze.
The second way Ozobot encourages interaction is through its visual block language called Ozoblockly. This option teaches your child a language similar to MIT’s Scratch or Google’s Blockly. It introduces programming basics like variables, loops, sensor detection, and sound or light changes.
You can send the programs to the robot via Bluetooth; however, the Ozobot can only support one program at a time. The web interface provides samples of challenges, but the prewritten code isn’t as robust as what Sphero delivers.
Lastly, Ozobot lets kids interact with it through a pure remote control application. While children will love this option, it runs the risk of being just another toy that lights up and makes sounds. The remote does let you record actions with macros, then play them over again, which helps a little in the programming department.
Part of the remote application includes the ability to connect with Ozobot users. Using this functionality lets kids send actions to one another’s’ robots, which is a fun and creative way to let kids play together, even when they’re far apart.
If you’re not careful, the Ozobot will become a member of your family without you realizing it. It’s quirky, portable, and fun, and has all the features you want for entry into coding and programming. As a parent, you may have to watch the social features of the robot since you can send messages via the app, but even if you disable that functionality, the Ozobot is still an excellent tech toy.
The Ozobot is a great little bot for that aids your children as they enter into the world of programming. With the remote control app, sounds, sensors, and lights, they’ll enjoy a rich, robust experience with their robot. It’s an excellent pick for any child who wants to learn more about technology and robotics.
For those unfamiliar with some of the toys produced by Sphero recently, you’ll enjoy learning that this is the same company that had success with the BB-8 and BB-9E toys which mimic robots from recent Star Wars films. The company also released an amazingly lifelike Lightning McQueen toy, which mimics the main character from the Pixar Cars franchise.
Due to the production of such high profile products aligned alongside popular movies and characters, your standard robot ball takes a back seat. That doesn’t, however, mean that Sphero doesn’t deliver on its ability to provide a quality robot that teaches children that programming can be fun and enjoyable.
Put simply, the Sphero is a small, plastic round-shaped robot. It consists of a plastic shell, which encases and holds the robot piece of the device, which consists of gyroscopes, motors, and LEDs. The plastic casing can be changed out and comes in one of five colors: white, green, blue, orange, and pink. If your child wants a color other than the one your Sphero came in, you’ll have to buy additional shells and change it out.
There are additional ways to customize the device with color. Within the Sphero, color LEDs can light up the device with any color from the rainbow, which can be adjusted and changed from within the mobile application. If your child doesn’t care about the color, Sphero will select its own as it goes about its business.
The mobile application is clean and easy to use and is available on both Android and iOS devices. It’s colorful, simple, and intuitive, which is perfect for small children. It takes some time and exploring to learn how the menu behaves since most of the options are icons without words, but you or your child will get the hang of it and discover just how much fun it is to use.
Like the Ozobot, the Sphero is a small device, so there is some concern about the durability of the robot and whether or not it can be easily broken. This might be even more of a concern if you have small children prone to not watching where they are walking.
Additionally, due to the nature of its size, the potential for losing the device is higher, especially when it comes to small kids. It zooms around so quickly it’s easy to lose sight of the robot while playing with it. As long as it’s on and making noise and lighting up, the Sphero is easy enough to find; however, if the battery were to drain, it would be difficult to locate such a small robot.
There are a variety of modes and features available with the Sphero, which helps to add variety to the device that some might view as merely just a remote control ball.
For instance, one mode available on the Sphero is called Face Drive. This feature allows you to control the robot by making faces at it. If you want it to move away from you, smile. If you want it to come closer to you, frown. Tilting your head to the left or to the right moves the Sphero to the left and to the right. It’s a pretty fun feature, which will have your kids making silly faces at the robot, and learning as they do so.
If you’d rather not use your face, there’s always the option to control it using one of the other driving options available in the mobile app. There’s a joystick feature, which lets you control the robot in much the same way you would drive an RC car. Or, if you prefer something a little more interesting, you can use the phone’s gyroscope to control the robot. Tilting your phone a certain way moves the Sphero around in correlating directions.
Your child has multiple levels of access when controlling the Sphero, beginning with the simplest method. This involves drawing a path for it with your finger and getting progressively more intricate and detailed until they move to the level of changing color, speed, direction, and more via customized blocks they can drag and drop into the program.
You can charge your Sphero robot with a micro-USB cable which comes with the device. It takes roughly an hour to charge up the robot, which results in about 45 minutes worth of play. Keep in mind that the Sphero does not retain its charge, so even if your child isn’t playing with the robot, the battery will still run down.
Ideally, the Sphero robot would have a battery that lasts longer, especially given how much fun you and your child will have playing with it. However, given its size, it’s fair to say that a short battery life should probably be expected.
The Sphero robot is a great device to help your child learn more about programming. You’ll be impressed with its features and functionality and will be pleasantly surprised with how easy it is to lose track of time when interacting with this device. It isn’t as popular as some of the other devices the company makes, but it’s still a great way to discover the joys of coding.
Its wide range of driving modes, educational options, and games makes the Sphero robot a great option for children who want to get into programming. Its multi-faceted capabilities are perfect for anyone looking for a way to get into coding.
While these two robots have some features and functionalities in common, they also have their share of differences. Let’s take a closer look at how these two devices compare with one another:
|Age Group||Elementary to High School||Elementary to High School|
|Mobile App Support||Android and iOS||Android and iOS|
|Battery Life||20 minutes on 15-minute charge||45 minutes on One Hour Charge|
|Colors||Black and White||White, Green, Blue, Orange, and Pink|
|Skin Options||Different colors can be purchased, also an option for Superhero skins||Different colors can be purchased|
Both the Ozobot and the Sphero are great devices that introduce children to the world of programming. Just a few short years ago, bring the world of physical computing to children wasn’t even a thought, and now they can become engaged and learn the basics of coding by interacting with these programmable robots.
Each robot has been clearly designed with education at the forefront, which is their purpose. They aim to be more than just toys. It’s tough to choose between these two great devices, and really it’ll come down to personal preference when you make your own choice. If what you’re looking for is a new way to get into programming and physical computing, either of these devices is a great option.
If your kids have mastered coding and want to move onto the exciting world of robotics (who doesn’t?), then get some valuable tips here in this article: Robotic Kits for Beginners! Feel free to share your stories too in the comments!
Further read, Anki Vector Robot Review!
Patrick Sinclair is a geek; make no mistake about that. He runs All Home Robotics in his spare time so he doesn’t have to think about his depressing cubicle and it gives him an excuse to buy expensive gadgets to review!