LAS VEGAS — According to a recent study, children age 9 and younger spend an average of two hours a day staring at a screen. Many parents want their young kids to spend less time with tablets, TVs and PCs, but they also want their young ones to learn about coding. Enter Botley, a colorful and enticing robot that you program by hitting a series of buttons on its remote control. There's no app or software of any kind.
Available for $69.99 in a set with 77 pieces you can use to play with it, Botley is a cute, box-shaped robot with a bright green front panel and a blue back plate. It has a pair of eyes on the front, but it can't really see anything in the traditional sense. Its on-board sensors allow it to avoid bumping into objects or to see and follow a black line. The robot uses disposable batteries so kids won't have to wait for it to charge.
Botley's remote control, which is in the same blue and green color scheme, has only nine buttons. You can use its arrows to program steps for Botley and set up a repeating loop or create a conditional scenario based on whether he detects an object in his path.
For example, you can program Botley to turn right and go forward five paces if its sees an object in front of it or keep going straight no object is present. These are important principles of coding, even if there's no actual code involved.
The kit comes with a set of cardboard tiles you can make Botley ride over and some cute obstacles you can put in the robot's path such as traffic cones and plastic blocks. There's a set of direction cards you can lay out to help plan your programs.
With its very basic functions and dead-simple design, it's clear that Botley is good for only very young children. Learning Resources, the company behind the robot, says that its product targets kids aged 5 and up. Based on my experience as the parent of a 5-year-old who already programs using block-based code, it's hard to imagine children who are much older than 5 or maybe 6 finding this robot challenging.
Botley just launched this month and is available right now at a few retailers.