Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978



Spring 2016 Toys
Ages: 6 & Up
Manufacturer: Wonder Workshop
Price: $149.99

Dash, a slightly alien-looking, one-eyed robot from Wonder Workshop, is a marvelous toy. When powered on, he wakes up, blinks his one, bright eye, and cries cheerfully, "Howdy-do!" From then on, the options are limitless. Wonder Workshop provides no fewer than five apps for controlling his behavior (a mobile device is required), four of them general-purpose and ranging from simple remote control to advanced programming with a Blockly interface.

Younger budding robotics engineers will appreciate the simple Go app, which allows direct control of Dash. Kids can vary his speed and direction, rotate his head, and send a variety of sounds, from chipper, wordless remarks to animal sounds to tire screeches; they can also add custom sounds and lighting effects.

The next step up is Path. In a series of environments, players construct routes for Dash and add obstacles and effects. This is the beginning of programming, planning in advance what the robot needs to do and seeing it displayed visually on a colorful road map. This was a favorite with testers because it was fun and easy to use.

Wonder is the flagship app. Players are presented with a tutorial to learn the module-based graphical programming approach in a series of quests. The programming includes conditional paths and interaction with the full range of Dash's capabilities. There are hundreds of challenges and many rewards along the way, and then players can also access free play mode to write further programs. The code stays in the memory of the robot and can be activated at any time (even without the mobile device) until a new program is installed. This app had the greatest long-term appeal to testers, seeing many hours of play and experimentation.

At the most advanced level is Blockly, a language style familiar to those who have used the free Scratch programming website or any of dozens of other apps. The library of built-in projects is smaller than in Wonder, encouraging children more quickly to branch off into their own applications.

There are several accessories available to Dash. One is another programmable robot, Dot, who is smaller but can also interact with the apps; she can be purchased and operated independently or can partner with Dash in projects. Dash comes with the Building Brick extensions, which enable Dash to connect with any LEGO-style blocks. Using these extends the programming challenges even further; clever designers can use Dash to be very versatile with the blocks. We were also able to test the Launcher accessory ($29.99) to Dash with the Wonder app; the Launcher allows kids to load and throw three projectiles toward targets and requires careful design and testing. In practice, we found the Launcher to be a bit finicky, occasionally getting stuck and refusing to reload.

Overall, Dash is one of the most ingenious, imaginative, and educational toys we have encountered. The designers clearly have a marvelous sense of humor and insight into children's view of the world. Dash is good for many, many hours of play and learning and serves as an excellent launch into the world of robotics for children of any age.

Emily Crawford   ©2016 Parents' Choice
Emily holds a BSE in electrical engineering and computer science from Duke University and a Master's in computer engineering from Georgia Tech. She is a homeschooling parent and lives with her husband, three children, five cats, and thousands of LEGOs in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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Wonder Workshop

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