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Thursday, December 26, 2019

Learn to Program with the KinderLab Robotics KIBO Robot Kit

My day job is that of a software developer. In other words, I get paid to program computers for a living. When given the chance to review a KIBO Robot Kit, I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Sure, my son is 12 and the kit is designed for 4-7 year old, but I got it for me to play with, not him. Yes, you read that right, the robot kit is meant to teach 4-7 year-old children how to program the KIBO robot, no screen required. Perfect age for my nephew, but he's about 1,400 miles away.

KIBO from KinderLab Robotics is one of those toys that encourages growth in those STEM-based areas (science, technology, engineering, and math; STEAM if you want to add art to the mix). While available for the home market at prices starting as low as $199 for their KIBO 10 robot kit, with ten programming blocks, I would have to think their primary market is schools, where kits start at $1,230 for 4-6 students with 18 different programming blocks to $5,645 for the 20-24 student full classroom package with 21 different blocks. The classroom packages don't just include the basic kits, but also include workbooks and curriculum to help teachers get the most out of the kits.
Programming the KIBO involves creating a program through the series of blocks that are available. The blocks have such commands as Forward, Backwards, Shake, Throw, and Repeat. Grabbing specific blocks and placing the commands in an order defines the program for the KIBO to execute. Once you know what you want the KIBO to do, you must add the necessary attachment modules to the top of the robot. Want to use the Wait for Clap block? Then you must be sure to add the sound sensor that looks like an ear to the top of the robot. When the KIBO runs the program you define, the robot will stop and wait for you to clap before it continues.
How does the program get from the blocks into the KIBO? Each block has a bar code on it. The KIBO has a bar code scanner built into its front. To program the KIBO, you basically start from the green BEGIN block on the left and scan its bar code, then scan each subsequent block, until you reach the final one with red END on it. Every block has an appropriate image on it, so if your child can't read the word CLAP, they'll see a picture of hands clapping so they better understand what each block is for.

Once you've read in the full program, you place the KIBO unit on the floor and press its green button for the program to execute. The robot will then follow each instruction programmed into it. Execution is actually pretty quick, especially if you keep the programs short. With the help of the programming blocks like REPEAT, you can add a counter to indicate how many times a set of commands can be executed, which would extend the program logic.
The more interesting actions of the KIBO are when you start to work with the different sensors and extension kits. The KIBO 10 starts off with just motion programming blocks and a beep for sound. The KIBO 15 adds sensors for hearing (clapping) and seeing (flashing light). The KIBO 18 adds if-logic, if near, if light, if dark, .... And the KIBO 21 adds three more sound blocks. In addition to the different robot kits, you can add extension sets that include additional attachments with added blocks. For instance, the Free Throw Extension Set has you telling the KIBO when to throw a ping-pong, just remember to attach the rubber band to the arm. There is also a Marker Extension Set which allows you to attach a marker to the robot for drawing. And, there is even a Building Block Extension Set so you can bling out the robot with building blocks, like from LEGO.

Overall, the KIBO is easy to work with. So easy... a 4 to 7-year old could use it. While I didn't test the robot kit with an actual child of that age, I truly do think they can handle it. A parent (or teacher) might need to show them how it works once or twice, but once shown how to read the program into the KIBO, they'd be off and running. Of course, it is fun for the parent to play with, too. My only concern would be leaving a $500 toy kit with a child of that age. While much of the robot components look fairly indestructible, my biggest concern would be the connectors for the sensors. If one were to ever bend slightly, I can just imagine a young child trying to jam the sensor into the robot and that part breaking off. That could be why KinderLab sells replacement sensors for $26 each.

The only issue I had with the KIBO robot kit was the lack of physical instructions in the box. If you're ever lost or confused though, just visit KinderLab online resources for help, in the form of videos, tutorials, activities, or curriculum.

And 4 AA batteries required. You might want to get rechargeables if you find yourself going through regular AA batteries too quickly.

For news, teaching ideas, curriculum offerings, and new product announcements, join their mailing list. And you can stay up to date with KinderLab on social media: Twitter (@KinderLabRobot), Facebook, LinkedIn or YouTube.

Disclosure: No compensation was received for this posting. This post contains affiliate links in which those links are clicked I may be compensated for. Please see the disclosure policy for more information.
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  1. This is a great learning toy, thanks for your review.