There's no shortage of robot-based toys out there which are claimed to be both fun, and teach your budding young roboticist the basics of programming. Following in the digital footsteps of Play-i, Kibo and Hackaball, is Vortex, a friendly Arduino-based bot that can connect to iOS and Android devices, play games, and be programmed by children as young as six-years-old.
Currently looking for funding on Kickstarter, Vortex is the latest product from DFRobot. It's aimed at children aged from 6 years and upwards, and has been designed to be fun out of the box. The bot comes ready to play a number of games including Bumping Fight (a sumo-like game for multiple Vortex robots), Golf, Driving, and Soccer. Fugitive, an augmented reality game which sees kids chasing after the bot with their smart device, will be available later in the year.
However, the hope is that children will not simply use Vortex as a passive play-thing, but will also want to learn how to make it do more cool stuff via an intuitive app which allows graphical programming in a simple drag and drop manner. The idea is that by doing this kids will learn the basics of programming without having to sit in front of a screen of code. Vortex will also come with pre-set courses to teach users how to make use of its built-in capabilities.
In terms of what tech will be at the disposal of young (or older) Vortex programmers, the wheeled robot features ground/line following sensors, proximity sensors and encoders for speed control. Feedback can be given via the various LEDs, an "eye" display with 32 eye expressions, and a speaker. The Vortex robot runs on four AA-sized batteries, which should be good for 40-90 minutes of use, and features Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. An I2c socket also offers the chance to expand sensor and interface options.
Its makers say this setup allows users to program the Arduino and Scratch compatible Vortex to perform a number of tasks which could include: following lines, recognizing hand gestures, navigating around obstacles or avoiding drop-offs. Because Vortex is open source, the creators hope to see people use it in all sorts of novel and interesting ways.
Kickstarter backers will currently need to pledge £45 (US$69) for a single Vortex, or £79 ($119) for a pair and kits will come with printed mats for a better gaming experience, and a sticker set including vinyl stickers with a variety of patterns for customization. Bigger bundles are also available, and should the funding target be reached and everything else go to plan, Vortex robots should start shipping in October.