Build a robot, program your own computer, and start creating whole new worlds with these amazing fun kits. Grownups allowed
For me Lego was always the toy of choice. The effortless way it entertained with its endless possibilities got me hooked very early on, and as I approach my 40th birthday the appeal still hasn’t worn off. Just ask my long-suffering wife about my Star Wars Minifigures addiction.
Lego was certainly a pioneer, and although there are many new and interesting incumbents coming through in the educational toys space these days, I tend to think that the best ones take a leaf from the brick book, applying the concept of modular, flexible learning that provides just enough guidance without limiting your imagination.
Two great new kits Tech Trends tried out recently are the Kitronik MOVE Mini and the Piper Computer Kit, both of which apply the “learn by building” concept masterfully. Here’s what we thought:
Kitronik MOVE mini
Once you have written your program online, download it and transfer to the MOVE mini via USB and you are ready to rock. The kit comes with a clearly laid out instruction book to get you up and running and from there it is up to you! Make the robot dance and spin while flashing its lights or insert a pen to draw shapes. Pre-prepared Code Blocks, tutorials and resources are all available at the Kitronik Mini online resource centre.
As a starting point I strongly recommend you follow the video instructions on the website to get the robot talking to your smart phone via Bluetooth. This shows off the possibilities and you can then go back and tweak the code or write your own to take control of your robot and test your own code. I am no expert programmer but I would rate the skill level needed to get the most out of the MOVE mini as intermediate, I had to carefully follow the instructions online before I felt able to experiment, but the building and learning process was absolutely fascinating and this is highly recommended! Besides, I am fully prepared to admit that a child would probably find it a lot easier than I did, it’s usually how these things work.
Piper Computer Kit
With endorsement from Steve Wozniak and funding from Princeton University, Reach Capital, Jaan Tallinn and 500 Startups the Piper Computer Kit definitely comes with an impressive pedigree to recommend it, so I had high expectations for this one. And I’m very pleased to say I was not disappointed.
So In my honorary role as the eternal child at Tech Trends I gleefully rolled up my sleeves and got stuck in to building my own Piper Raspberry Pi computer. Even for someone used to building awesome toys this was really something, combining ultra-slick presentation and a very tactile, approachable and play-focused functionality and aesthetics. The Minecraft theme also makes it instantly approachable for kids of all ages, even those in their late 30s.
The Piper build starts with a Top Secret message giving you a mission to save the world, how could I refuse? So having chosen to accept my mission, I dig into the blueprint instructions, which are amazingly cool, so huge you have to spread them out on the floor before getting started on the build. Fitting together like Lego – definitely a tick in the right box for me – the sturdy wooden case is really fun and the screen, Raspberry PI, battery, speaker and circuitboard all connect easily, but things get more techie when you start it up and jump into the mission.
Learning through gameplay and storytelling is not a new idea, but by theming the entire kit around the massively popular Minecraft games Piper instantly gets kids on board, and the building principles of the gameplay work perfectly alongside the engineering, electronics and programming skills the kit introduces as the mission progresses.
Overall this is an excellent product as it is, but the Piper team are not exactly resting on their laurels, as they’re constantly expanding and evolving their storylines and adding new games and challenges so be sure to keep your Piper Computer updated when it’s connected to the Internet, as the fun certainly doesn’t end when you complete your first mission. In fact, that’s just the start of your adventure.