I’ve been watching STEAM and/or STEAM toys with great interest and great skepticism. While many parents and teachers report great success with programming toys like Cleverbot and whatever this thing is, I’ve found that kids (and parents) I know find many STEM toys to be sterile, boring, and just no fun.
The same held true for the notoriously fiddly LittleBits kits. These kits had little snap-together electronic parts that allowed you to create circuits and connect chips in order to build various projects. You could make synthesizers, Arduino gadgets, and robots and the like but, ultimately, nothing sparked with anyone I knew. Now, I’m pleased to report, LittleBits has finally pulled off STEM magic with the Droid Inventor kit and other manufacturers would do well to emulate them.
The kit is deceptively simple. It includes just a few components including a driving and steering motor as well as a proximity sensor and a wireless unit that connects to your phone. The kit comes with a plastic R2D2 body including removable legs and head along with stickers that let you choose between red or blue R2 units and even white stickers that let your kids color their own robot.
Assembling the project is easy and the included mounting box makes it easy to lay out your circuit and connect to to power without worrying about pinched wires or short-circuits. Once your droid is assembled you follow a set of instructions on the mobile app to teach your robot to follow you, simulate force pushes, and other cute games.
Why is this product so good? It’s a compelling and fun kit that is connected to a very popular franchise that acts as both a learning experience and a toy. While the robot is currently in pieces on my kids’ floor, they have played with the Droid Inventor kit far more than any other STEM kit I’ve seen, including the classic Snap Circuits that is far more complete but also far more complex than any LittleBits kit.
While I know anecdotal evidence is shaky a best, I believe that LittleBits has finally gotten the STEM formula right. This $99 toy/gadget/kit is easy to build, fun, and potentially educational. It’s essentially like a really simple Star Wars Lego kit with far smarter tech.
Will this toy make your kid a little genius? No, but they will get a rudimentary understanding of circuits and understand that small components can do cool stuff. Again, I don’t believe toys like these will make kids smarter but at least they expose them to concepts, tools, and ideas that could lead to a career in tech. And all it took was to add a popular whimsical beeping robot into the STEM mix.