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

Robotics: Smart Machines – Tracks & Treads

Robotics: Smart Machines – Tracks & Treads

Spring 2019 Toys
Ages: 8 - 14 yrs.
Manufacturer: Thames & Kosmos
Price: $134.95

Smart Machines Tracks & Treads is a snap together kit to build motor powered robots that move up to or around stationary objects. Two electric motors move the robot, and an ultrasonic sensor guides it. The kit requires a tablet or smartphone for programming or, in the simplest form, as a remote control. The programming ability is what makes this kit special.

The instruction manual covers eight designs, with plenty of open-ended design opportunities. This 197-piece robot engineering kit engages children at three levels: (i) building robots using snap together plastic parts, (ii) driving the robot using a tablet as the remote control, and (iii) programming. At the start, adult help may be needed for a full learning experience.

Children (and adults) will find the plastic parts and instructions familiar. The parts fit well, but the enclosed lever tool is necessary to separate smaller parts. The manual includes explanatory notes that cover, among other things, principles of ultrasound and programming.

Robots must be linked to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. The remote control mode steers completed robots and shows a distance map of objects in the robot's path. The novel learning experience is the programming mode in the App. Young engineers can learn the basics of programming such as conditional blocks or segments without learning a language. Here, programs control sounds and the two electric motors. Motor commands are created using icons and sliders for left/right, speed, and duration. Commands are conditional on distance to the object in front of the robot's ultrasonic sensors. The robot can be programmed to head toward the object and then turn left or right when it gets close. Programs range from simple stop and go commands to the more complex mimicking of a Roomba vacuum.

John Green   ©2019 Parents' Choice
John Green is an economist in Washington DC and father of three. He has a PhD in economics from the University of Pennsylvania.

Share This