STEM education at an early age is all the rage these days, and little wonder. Engineers, scientists, technicians, and programmers are those who are expected to make big bucks in the future, have the freedom to choose their jobs, and – just maybe – start a highly profitable company of their own. Moreover, technical literacy is now a basic life skill, no less important than good table manners and parallel parking.
Anyone who can’t draw up a spreadsheet and configure a router is automatically at a disadvantage in daily life.
The same applies to programming. Not everyone can or wants to be a software engineer, but understanding the concepts involved can be invaluable. For one thing, coding teaches you how to take a huge, intractable problem and reduce it to a set of puzzles you can each solve more easily, finally translating the solution into words the idiot computer can understand.
This robot is programmed through a phone or tablet using an absolutely brilliantly designed, very intuitive graphical interface (your child will have to be able to read a little, though; this toy is intended for kids of 6 years or older):
The instructions you can give it aren’t too complicated, but are surprisingly versatile; you can even teach it to solve mazes:
If (something in front):
And so on. Dash can also respond to specific words and sounds and, with the proper accessories, launch a ball and play the xylophone. These commands, as well as the inputs from Dash’s various sensors, can be combined into logical structures that every programmer will be familiar with, such as decisions and loops.
It will probably break if you step on it, but this is definitely a quality product, even at such a reasonable price. It charges pretty rapidly (through micro USB), after which you can use it for up to 1½ hours.
You don’t need to rack your brains to come up with programming problems appropriate to your child’s skill level yourself, either: numerous “challenges” are provided for them to solve.
It’s difficult to find anything bad to say about this educational toy. Playing with it offers an excellent entry point into the world of programming for any boy or girl up to about age 14. If they had access to one from an earlier age, they might well have graduated to PC-based compilers by then.