This article was published on December 6, 2017

Ozobot Evo is a pocket-sized robot you can program with a Sharpie

Ozobot Evo is a pocket-sized robot you can program with a Sharpie
Tristan Greene
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Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him

If you’re a parent who feels that every toy in 2017 is designed to add even more tablet time to your already overwhelmed child’s life you aren’t alone. For this reason alone I leapt at the opportunity to check out Ozobot’s Evo, a tiny robot that you can ‘program’ with colored markers. Offline toys that teach children how to code may just be the remedy to our screen-time management woes.

At first glance I didn’t think a walnut-sized rolling bot that blinks and chirps was going to compete with its bigger, more robust competitors. Being able to draw lines and watch it follow is cool, but at the end of the day if I’m buying a robot for my kids it has to be fun and engaging.

Credit: Nicole Gray

Evo is exactly that. Perhaps even more so than some its larger counterparts, and it’s because of a proprietary color-based coding system called OzoCodes. While it comes with an included exploration mat (which in itself is an 8 piece jigsaw puzzle) featuring various OzoCodes, I spent far more time drawing my own. And it was a blast.

With OzoCodes you use different colors to draw lines and the robot will follow them. You draw OzoCodes by using combining different colored squares or circle combinations, which represent specific commands, and Evo will perform them.

For example, red/green/red/green tells the robot to perform a tornado trick. When it rolls over that OzoCode it will acknowledge it with a blink and then perform the maneuver.

Credit: Nicole Gray

Similar codes include changing speeds, performing a cute little rolling-robot version of the moonwalk called ‘backwalk,’ and jumping over to a different line.

It takes virtually no time whatsoever to learn the basics and a series of cards called an “Experience Pack” (which you can download in PDF, or request the company ship it to you for free, on the Ozobot website) do a fantastic job of working as a tutorial and even provide fun games and challenges to solve along the way.

I love the idea of teaching my toddler the basic concepts of coding by rolling out a big white sheet of butcher paper and handing them some markers. Draw a line and watch a robot do your bidding: it’s a pretty easy concept to get across.

Yet as an adult, I found myself drawn to the challenges. It’s a lot of fun to solve logic problems offline using a toy that chirps and laughs. And it’s super cute; if you leave it idle for too long it starts snoring.

If you’ve never watched a tiny robot fall asleep, you haven’t lived. It’s adorable and I’m not ashamed to admit that I want to cover my desk in Evos and spend my workday listening to a chorus of their cute sounds.

Credit: Nicole Gray

Interestingly, they also come in a superhero variety – you can buy “EvoSkins” that add new capabilities to your little Evo, which include Captain America and Iron Man. Kids who are into The Avengers will get a lot of mileage out of playing with Evos together, as they are “social” when you operate more than one in proximity.

Evo does all the stuff that similarly priced robots do. You can connect it to an app and control it manually. Users can program their robot on a computer using a drag-and-drop language called “OzoBlockly” that lets you create routines and games. The app also features all the standard community options you would expect, so you can share your creations and download new programs created by other users.

But being able to not only play with it, but create programs and games with it offline is my favorite thing about Evo.

I highly recommend Evo to parents, as it’s a fantastic way to introduce young children to coding. And despite its diminutive size, there’s a lot of fun to be had with nothing more than the robot, some paper, and a handful of colored markers.

You can get yours here at the Ozobot website for $99.

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