Programming is an increasingly important skill in our digital world, and there's no shortage of toys designed to teach kids to code. Kamibot, Code-a-Pillar, Codeybot, Kibo and Vortex are just a few of your options from the last few years, and now Photon has crash-landed among the ranks. This little guy comes complete with a backstory to engage kids, teach them the basics of coding and reward them with the unlocking of new abilities.
Like many other learn-to-code toys, Photon is controlled with an app. It's built on a combination of visual programming languages Scratch and Blockly, and allows kids to input commands and watch the robot carry them out. What sets it apart is the focus on storytelling, with every aspect, from unboxing to coding to playing, worked into a narrative that is designed to help kids stay focused and motivated, based on research from psychologists and gamification experts.
The story goes that Photon's spaceship crashed here on Earth, and he needs help to get back in working order and find the scattered pieces of his ship. As kids complete tasks, the robot gains new abilities for them to experiment with, including obstacle avoidance, the ability to follow lines drawn on the ground, and sensors to let him react to different levels of light, sound and touch.
Creativity is encouraged with kids able to customize their Photon by changing the color of his eyes and antennas, which house 256-color LEDs, or attaching magnetic accessories like hats and jetpacks to his head and back. The creators assure parents that Photon is durable, and his internal electronics are locked up tight, safe from inquisitive fingers.
Two 200 rpm motors drive Photon's movement, and he's powered by a 3,000 mAh battery that is recharged via USB and should provide four to six hours of operation. He connects to devices via Bluetooth 4.0, and the app will be available on iOS, Android and eventually Windows.
Photon is currently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign, and a pledge at the US$199 tier (or $169 if you're quick enough for the Early Bird special) will get your kids their own little robot buddy if all goes to plan. Shipping is estimated for early next year.