Way back in August, when I went to National Instruments’ NI Week, I was introduced to a cool new (to me) product by LEGO Education. The WeDo was developed to use in a classroom setting, complete with per seat software licenses and curriculum, but I think it would sell as well or better amongst the Geek community.
LEGO says 7+ on the age, but I think most kids who’ve learned not to eat the pieces will do well with it. Older kids like my 10 year old will bore of it quickly so consider skipping straight to the LEGO Mindstorm NXT for them. NXT isn’t a lot harder to program and comes with more parts, and software for a additional $100.
The LEGO WeDo and software will set you back about $170 plus shipping. I think it is a worthy investment and a good introduction to programming logic for younger kids. Just consider how long your kids will be able to use it and if you have relatives or friends to pass it down to.
The programming interface was developed by National Instruments and shares the same drag and drop concepts of the NXT but with fewer and simpler blocks. Below is an example a program we wrote to control the attack monkey pictured above. The sensor doesn’t kick in til you’re very close so it isn’t handy as a real sentry, but the kids did have fun seeing where they had to be to be seen.
Like most “kids” software, the programming interface has some annoying features. The first is that it can only run full screen. I couldn’t find a way out other than alt-tab or the Windows key. The UI interface lacks in some areas. The only menu is “Project” and it only offers three options, Exit, Open and New. Travis was worried the first time he exited that his project wasn’t saved.
I initially tried to install the software under Wine, but had to resort to using my XP VirtualBox. It ran fine and didn’t have any problems seeing the LEGO USB Hub once I assigned that device to the guest OS.
Overall I recommend the WeDo if your budget allows and your kids aren’t already too old to get a year or two out of it.
Wired: LEGO, Robots, teaching kids about programming and mostly easy programming interface.
Tired: Price, lack of a retail package or price, less than intuitive controls in the programming interface.