In 2016 I wrote about Wonder Workshop Robots, Dash and Dot. These two cute robots, backed up with excellent app support, offered a fun way for children aged 7 upwards to access coding. I’m not the only GeekDad Wonder Workshop fan; Jonathan Liu reviewed the Cue robot, here. Now Dash is back with a new accessory. It’s time to get creative with the Wonder Workshop Sketch Kit.
What is the Wonder Workshop Sketch Kit?
If you reading beyond this, I’m going to assume you’re familiar with the Dash (or Cue) robot and its app interface. If you’re not, do check out the review links above. The Sketch kit is not particularly complicated to use if you’re familiar with how your robots work. The kit adds additional functionality to Dash (or Cue), so if you haven’t used one before, buy a robot first, have a play, and if you like it (which I’m sure you will), come back for the Sketch Kit.
What do you get in the Sketch Kit?
- A cradle to attach to your robot. This enables to Dash/Cue to carry and use the Sketch Kit pens. They can only use one color at a time.
- 6 colored pens to use. These are triangular and fit neatly into the cradle with a satisfying click. (Note: In some of the first packs to go out, the red pen has dried out. If this happens to you, don’t hesitate to contact Wonder Workshop for a replacement.)
- A set of 6 double-sided cue cards with pictures on them, giving 12 programs for you to download. With them, using the Wonder Workshop app, you can program your robot to draw the pictures on the cards. Each side of the card has a code on it that unlocks a program within the Wonder App. Note: There are actually 2 codes on each side. One is for the Scratch style, blockly code, and the other for Wonder Workshop’s own proprietary coding system.
How does the Sketch Kit work?
It’s really very simple. The cradle holds the pen at just the right level to draw on your paper/whiteboard (with one of the code commands to raise or lower the pen). You will need a large space to get the most out of you Sketch Kit. There are now special sections within the apps to allow use of the draw functions. They can be accessed directly in both versions of the Wonder Workshop apps. You can then use the code blocks to create your own masterpieces.
Alternatively, you can start with the cue cards, which enable you to download pre-generated programs to your device. These too can be accessed using the Wonder Workshop apps.
There is a final way in which the Robot can be used, and this is arguably the most fun and certainly the messiest. Freestyle. Yes, using the driving section of your Wonder App, you can use your device as a remote control and create masterpieces on the fly.
Are there any drawbacks to the Sketch Kit?
There are definitely things to consider when looking at a Sketch Kit. One is space. Dash alone needs some space to get the most out of him, but add in the Sketch Kit, and you most definitely use a large flat area in which to operate your robot. At least 3′ x 3′, and ideally more.
The Sketch Kit can get messy. Beware your floors. A mis-drive with a pen could mark hard floors. If your robot drives off the paper onto your lovely wooden floors, that pen is going to keep on drawing. I haven’t tested what happens if it drives on carpet. This can cause an additional cleaning headache, until this point not a problem with Wonder Workshop robots. The whiteboard set does come with its own eraser, but a damp cloth will also suffice. I can say that ink does come off both the whiteboard and my kitchen tiles with ease, but if you have a particularly precious floor, you’ll need to take care things stay on the paper!
Whatever space you do have to run your robots around in, you also have to have a canvas that is as big. This, if nothing else, will help protect your floors. You can use bits of paper, stuck together, but if you’re feeling flush, you could always find room in the budget of the Sketch Pack with the canvas. This adds a very nice quality roll-up-able, magnetic, whiteboard mat. The whiteboard mat measures 2m x 1m, which does afford lots of area in which to play. Having used Dash with and without the whiteboard, I would definitely say, if you can stretch to it, go for it. The board makes the robots much easier to get up and running and then reuse (a simple wipe clean and you’re ready for action again). This means you’ll probably get more value out of your investment. On the downside, masterpieces on a whiteboard can’t easily be kept.
Whilst the use of Dash, Cue, and the Sketch Kit is all about the physicality of the product, I do think it would be great if there were a virtual way of seeing your programs in action. This would help save floors and the task of cleaning the floor every time your programming sends your robot off-piste. The Pixel Kit I reviewed from Kano, last year, does this brilliantly and it would be a good feature to add here.
One other thing to be aware of when using the whiteboard is that the lines can be smudged if Dash rides through them when they’re fresh. It may be necessary to add some pause steps into your routines to allow the ink to dry.
What’s great about the Sketch Kit?
The main advantage of the Sketch Kit is that it adds another dimension to what you can do with your robots. Moving about, making noises, and flashing lights are entertaining, but this kit adds a practical application. You can draw, and potentially keep your robotic masterpieces (not so much on the whiteboard).
The other thing that this really helps with is refining the iterative processes. It took me by surprise how satisfying the experience was. Computer programs failing is often quite an abstract process. The Wonder Workshop Sketch Kit adds a physical element to the process, which makes the problem you’re trying to solve more tangible.
My children wanted to draw a house. It was not as straightforward as they were expecting. They found it tricky to work out which way, and how far, Dash should turn in order to make the triangle roof. Through trial and error, they were able to work it out. By seeing the results of each iteration, they could see they were getting closer to success, inspiring them to keep trying. The sketching process makes things very hands-on, which is great.
Should I buy the Wonder Workshop Sketch Kit?
I maintain that Dash, Dot, and Cue are top-end coding robots. The Wonder Workshop package is brilliantly thought through. The experience is engaging from start to finish. The problem with producing the complete package straight out of the box is what do you deliver next?
The Sketch Kit is a pretty good attempt at answering this question. It keeps the same quality user experience by adding another dimension. Things aren’t quite so self-contained now. The Sketch experience is not as portable as its original counterpart. The addition of marker pens into anything child related is inevitably going to bring some parents out in a cold sweat. Nevertheless, if you have children who regularly use their Dash or Cue robots, the Sketch Kit is likely to reinvigorate their enjoyment.
The Sketch Kit isn’t, in itself, reason to justify buying a Wonder Workshop robot. They’re brilliant as they stand. As an accessory, the kit has great application for additional fun, arty activities, that extend Dash and Cue beyond their original capabilities. Whether you need a whiteboard or not depends on space. It makes the robots easy to get instant results with, but it is hugely bulky, even rolled up, so storage may be an issue. Where the whiteboard will come into its own is a school or other group environment. Picture based code offs would make an excellent team activity!
Disclaimer: I received a Sketch Kit in order to write this review.