Forget about old-fashioned blocks and action figures. If you want your child to succeed in school, you need to buy toys which teach your kid to code and build electronics. Available for pre-order on Indiegogo, Sony's new KOOV kit looks to make learning fun by providing a giant set of flexible blocks that kids can turn into a nearly-unlimited set of programmable robots.
While there are plenty of robot kits on the market, KOOV stands out because you can use its combination of blocks, actuators and sensors to build so many different projects — everything from a duck with a moving bill to a rolling fire truck. During a brief demo, Sony product marketing manager Tim McGregor showed us a robotic hippo which rolled back and forward, opening its jaws based on his hand moving over a light sensor.
The company provides a number of premade "recipes" through its software, which includes helpful 3D tutorials. Many competitive products can make only one or two types of robot because they use so many specialized blocks.
All of the sensors and actuators (or motors) connect via wires to a control box called the KOOV Core, which provides power and data to those parts. Under its sleek white-plastic chassis, the Core is actually an Arduino board — the same type of controller that millions of professional makers use. Sensors include a light sensor, accelerometer and infrared sensor, while actuators include both DC and servo motors. There are also buzzers, buttons and lights that children can use in their projects.
Kids then use the KOOV App, which is available for iOS and Windows, to program their robots. It's odd that Sony isn't supporting Android out of the box while providing a version for Windows when competitive kits such as the Jimu robots support Google's OS, but not Microsoft's. However, some may find it easier to write programs on a full Windows PC with a keyboard and mouse than on an Android phone or slate.
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The KOOV's programming language is proprietary but looks and feels just like Google Blockly, where you drag around conditional and action blocks rather than type in raw code. Other kids' robot kits such as the Ozobot and the Jimu robots use a similar system.
Considering that KOOV is powered by an Arduino board, it's a shame that the kit doesn't support programming in Arduino language. While coding in the Arduino IDE is more complex than dragging colorful blocks around, it is the full-fledged system that adults use. However, it's possible that an enterprising user could get the system working with standard Arduino development tools; McGregor said that the company is considering adding official support in the future.
Due out in November, but available for pre-order on Indiegogo right now, KOOV will be available in two sizes, Advanced Kit and Starter Kit, with MSRPs of $499 and $349 respectively; early bird backers can get them for $399 and $287 right now. The more expensive kit comes with 302 blocks and enough sensors to build 23 different KOOV projects while its sibling has 162 blocks and enough sensors to build 14 kinds of robot.
The KOOV has been available in Japan for several months now, but Sony, one of the world's largest companies, chose to launch it in the U.S. on a crowdfunding site to gauge consumer interest and generate support. A couple of days after going live on Indiegogo, the campaign has already raised $23,000 of its $100,000 goal.