Kibo – A Programmable Robot for Early Childhood

kibo-robot-kit

Kibo, by KinderLab, has been around for a while now.  It was originally a Kickstarter campaign, and did rather well in its first funding cycle.  We got our kit as part of the Kickstarter, although it doesn’t appear to be any different than the kits (Kibo 18) they are selling now.  There are three kits for sale ($229, $359, $399).  We have the equivalent of the $399 one.

Kibo is a very basic robot kit.  It comes with a body, as well as sound, light, and ultrasonic sensors for input.  For output, it has a couple of different lights and a motor that turns.  It also has two detachable motors that plug into the sides of the robot.  The pieces are made of a combination of wood and plastic. Kibo is programmed using wooden blocks that connect using wooden dowels, printed with barcodes on their sides.  Everything feels pretty sturdy and kid-friendly.  We haven’t abused ours, but it does feel like it could handle a moderate beating.

Building the robot doesn’t leave much to creativity or imagination.  The assembly process consists mostly of plugging the pieces together where the connectors fit into the robot body.  Oddly, the motors can fit in two different ways, which has the effect of reversing the polarity and making them run backwards.  This got a little confusing for my kids, who couldn’t figure out why the robot was going in circles when they told it to go forward.

The act of programming the robot is not entirely intuitive, but can be learned with a little help from an adult.  Despite the fact that there are a fairly large number of blocks, one quickly realizes that the blocks are fairly limiting in terms of the complexity of the robot’s abilities.  I’ve heard that you can download and print more barcodes online to allow more complicated programs, but I can’t seem to find them.  You can also order more blocks from the online store, although that would add up quickly.

What we Like

  • I like the construction – The wood feels nice, and the wooden blocks have a nice tactile feel.
  • The Kibo is cute, and accessible to very young kids for the most part.
  • We had a good time playing around with it, and we still pull it off the shelf every once in a while for the little kids.
  • The blocks are a very nice visual/physical metaphor for procedural programming.

What we don't like

  • The Kibo’s abilities are fairly limited.
  • It ends up being very expensive for what you can do with it.
  • The building part is more “assembling”.  The Kibo lacks creative options that really engage thinking.
  • We found batteries had “leaking” issues.  We now remove the batteries after every session, further crippling it as a “pick up and play” device for the kids.
  • There are no “challenges” or ideas to give context to the building and programming.  The kids explore for a while and get bored without any sort of idea, challenge or framework.

What we recommend

  • Kibo is a nice, kid-friendly introduction to the basic ideas of programming and robotics.
  • If your kids are old enough to appreciate / handle legos, we’d recommend looking into Lego robotics kits (below).  They are much more sophisticated, and more open ended. (And $50 cheaper than the high end Kibo kit.)