When we first heard about OZOBOT, a little over a year ago, all the buzz was about this new robot game piece that would make a dramatic difference in the gaming world. Then, very shortly thereafter, all the press and promotion switched to OZOBOT being a new and innovative way for young learners to learn the basics of programming/coding.
After spending a few days getting to know OZOBOT, our conclusion is that OZOBOT is both, and it is neither. It occupies a specific niche, almost an island, where it delivers significant value and can be highly recommended. Beyond that niche, it really isn’t clear, at least not yet, how far OZOBOT can be expanded or adopted to provide more of an extended learning experience.
OZOBOT’s design is quite innovative. It’s tiny, yet packs a lot of technology inside a body that’s just a little bigger than our thumb. In a nutshell, which is a strangely apt reference since the relative size is the same, OZOBOT is a line follower robot with two small drive wheels and a sensor array on the bottom. As it follows line paths, different color segments tell it to change behavior. The overall concept is very simple and straight forward. Students create paths with different colored segments, either with marking pens or by using their fingers to draw the lines and segments on an iPad or Android tablet. This enables them to quickly grasp the basic concept of programming and coding.
OZOBOT also provides visual feedback. For example, when it passes over a blue colored line segment, one of the robots LEDs glows blue. Students can change the robots mode using a button located on one side of the body.
All line follower robots require some sensor calibration since the operating environments and lighting can vary greatly. For OZOBOT, you just use the mode button to put the robot into calibration mode, a white LED will flash indicating it’s ready to be calibrated, then you place it on the provided calibration card. After a few seconds the LED flashes green, and you’re good to go.
In addition to preprinted line paths and some examples students can use to create their own, the company also supports several different smartphone/tablet applications for both iOS and ANDROID.
One application simulates the line creation process on screen. Actually, we prefer using this app over hand drawing lines since during our tests we were able to achieve much more consistent results that way. However, very young students may prefer the hand drawing method and may find it much more engaging and fun. A second application combines music and rhythm with the robots motions - kind of like a robot disco performance. It’s a fun app, especially for demonstrating the robot, but might get old in a hurry.
OZOBOT’s price is relatively low, typically less than USD$50 for one robot or under USD$100 for the special dual set package. Keep in mind that the robot is non-repairable, at least for anyone with less know-how and skill than an Ultra-Geek, and the built-in battery can’t be replaced. Once the robot breaks, or the battery wears out, you’ll have a cute little paperweight - which isn’t all bad.
So, where does OZOBOT fit in the larger scheme of things? It doesn’t appear to have gained traction as a robot game piece, at least we weren’t able to locate any commercial games that have adopted the technology.
On the other hand, many educators have incorporated the robot into their entry level programs. It seems like a natural fit to kickstart students into the core elements of programming and robotics. What isn’t clear is what the next natural learning step for the students should be. How do they transfer the learning and expand on it? At this point that seems to be a decision for each individual teacher or educator.