Tiny Robot Ozobot Bit Makes Programming Fun

The Ozobot Bit, on display at CES 2015.

The Ozobot Bit, on display at CES 2015.

LAS VEGAS — It may be one of the smallest robots at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), but don't let the Ozobot Bit's humble size — only one cubic inch — fool you. Designed to teach kids how to program, Ozobot Bit can remember and execute up to 500 different commands, from solving mazes to dancing.

On the corresponding iOS or Android app, children can write commands in the intuitive programming language Blockly, then transmit those commands to their Ozobot Bit to carry out. Set to go on sale this spring, each Ozobot Bit costs $50.

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The new robot is an evolution from last year's Ozobot, a nearly identical-looking robot that can detect and follow lines on a surface, either drawn on paper or displayed on a screen, such as a tablet, laid flat on a table. Ozobot can even change its behavior based on the color of the lines — you can program "blue" to mean "speed up," for example, or "red" to mean "turn around."

Ozobot Bit can do everything the Ozobot can do, and more. It introduces children to Blockly, a visually oriented programming language that lets kids stack, rearrange and attach lines of code like building blocks. Kids who aren't ready for Blockly can also use the even simpler color-based language developed for the first Ozobot.

Example of Ozobot Bit commands written in Blockly.

Example of Ozobot Bit commands written in Blockly.

Once kids create the code on the mobile device, they simply place the Ozobot Bit on top of the screen and tap a button. A series of bright colors flash across the mobile device's screen in less than a second: this is the Ozobot app communicating the kids' commands to the robot.

At CES, I saw the Ozobot Bit drive across a piece of paper with a series of branching lines on it. The Ozobot Bit methodically followed each possible branch, turning smartly when it reached the end and continuing on its task.

Via another app called OzoGroove, two other Ozobot Bits at the CES booth were dancing in time to a song, following another set of pre-programmed commands. 

Jill Scharr is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she regularly covers security, 3D printing and video games. You can email Jill at jscharr@tomsguide.com, or follow her on Twitter @JillScharrand on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Jill Scharr is a creative writer and narrative designer in the videogame industry. She's currently Project Lead Writer at the games studio Harebrained Schemes, and has also worked at Bungie. Prior to that she worked as a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide, covering video games, online security, 3D printing and tech innovation among many subjects.