by Michael Crider on
Trying to find a way to introduce someone to the internet and the digital world when it’s foreign to them (and they don’t like computers) is tough. But you can make that task easier by picking the right hardware.
Much like any conventional language, programming is one of those skills we all wish we’d started learning many years ago. Give your kids a head start with Makeblock‘s Codey Rocky.
The Makeblock Codey Rocky is designed to teach your kids the concepts of programming while playing. An entry-level coding robot, it’s aimed at children aged 6 and above, and we took it for a spin.
As soon as you take him out the box, it’s apparent how cute Codey Rocky is. And yes, I’m calling him a ‘him’. The little dude has too much personality to be an ‘it’. Technically, he’s formed of two separate parts. His ‘face’ is Codey, a detachable controller that does all the hard work, while Rocky is the car that transports him whenever he needs to go. It’s quite a useful design as it means you can just take Codey to hook up to your PC when needed, but still carry Codey and Rocky together.
The Codey unit has plenty of useful gizmos your kids can control. His face is an LED display, demonstrating various expressions in a basic but oddly personality-rich way. There’s a speaker for saying a few select voice lines, along with a light sensor and voice sensor which gives you a few options for more complicated programming tasks later on. Three buttons are also included at the bottom of Codey, which you can program to initiate certain tasks. Everything about Codey is reasonably chunky so kids without fine motor skills can still play with him.
Within a few moments of connecting to the smartphone app via Bluetooth, Codey can already do some entertaining things. At first, Codey is a simple remote control toy. Dive into the ‘Drive’ section of the app and you can use an on-screen joystick to move him around, or press one of the many buttons to get him to do something. He can spin, ‘smile’, act ‘angry’, do a little dance, or race for a moment.
You can also design a route for him to follow by drawing a path in the app. It’s simple stuff but quite fun to create your own little obstacle courses. Conveniently, Codey is able to travel across most surfaces, including climbing over small bumps, so you don’t have to worry about being restricted to hardwood floors. I found him just as capable on a thick carpet as he was a flat surface.
You could probably leave it there and have a cute remote control robot, but that’s hardly the point of Codey, and $100 would be an expensive remote control toy. Instead, delve into the code side of the app, and you’ll realise there’s so much more to the little robot on wheels.
Within the Code part of the app, you can construct various routines out of blocks that represent chunks of code. It’s a simple way to piece together a programming routine without you (or your child) realizing that you’re coding. First, you choose an event such as when Codey starts up or a particular button is pressed. You can then choose actions like having him dash forward a little at full speed before turning to the left or right, or playing a sound.
In a short amount of time, I programmed Codey set up a quick routine. When I pressed a button, Codey displayed ‘Hello’ on his LED face, played a happy tune, dashed forward, changed his LED light to flash a little, displayed ‘Goodbye’ then went to sleep with a ‘zzz’ noise. It took only minutes to piece together what I wanted him to do. Sending the routine over to the robot via Bluetooth took mere seconds.
My first routine was a fairly simple one. You can create more detailed routines that involve detecting ambient light and reacting accordingly, picking a random number, or sending an IR message. You can create your own variables too, with there being a fair amount of options for more complex programming.
Hook Codey up to your PC or Mac, and you get a lot more advanced options. You can see how block commands translate into Python or even start writing your own Python scripts yourself. It’s the perfect springboard for more conventional coding, if you or your kids are ready to move onto more complex tasks.
There are also add-on extensions known as IoT and Neuron. IoT connects Codey to your Wi-Fi so that he can interact with some of your smart tech around the home. Want him to pay attention to the temperature according to your thermostat? Or know about the air quality or when the sun rises? The IoT section is where you go for this. He’ll even hook into IFTTT for simple automation.
The Neuron extension relates to Makeblock’s programable building block platform of the same name. The extension allows Neuron to tie into Codey’s many sensors, as well as the LED strip. It’s easily where the less technically minded folk (like me) start to get bogged down in the detail. However, if you’re invested in Makeblock products, it’s encouraging that they all tie into each other. I only had the chance to try out Codey Rocky but the potential is clear.
Codey Rocky is a lot of fun, that—in theory—will grow with your child. Because he starts out as a simple remote control toy, he’s ideal with a young child who simply wants to play with something a bit better than regular wheeled toy. Soon enough though, your child will want to delve further and see what else they can do with him. If they’re struggling to figure things out, you can generally piece it together yourself or you can consult Makeblock’s numerous learning guides or examples.
For an educational toy that can grow with your child, $100 doesn’t seem so bad at all. It’s not something they’ll get bored of in a week and never touch again. As they get older, you can introduce new programming elements. If you have more than one kid, you can easily have the younger child try out the more basic elements while an older child practices things like Python scripting. Plus, you can learn a bit of code yourself because, after all, someone has to teach the kids how this thing works, right? Expect Codey to stick around in the family for a while to come.
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