When I go to conferences these days, I rarely stop at booths in the exhibit hall to see things I have not seen before. I go to exhibit floors to connect and put face time in with the companies that I already believe in. Many of them I have known for years, so it's more just going to see friends. The other booths are typically either retreads of other products, have no place in the classroom, or they go into categories that either don't interest me or I will never purchase. Sometimes they are a combination of all of those factors.
I recently got back from FETC (Future of Education Technology Conference in Orlando, FL), and there was, of course, a LOT of booths on the exhibit hall floor that did not interest me. There were also several of my favorites which I did stop at for that reconnection (Nearpod, Squirrels, Bloxels, Osmo, Sphero to name a few). What got me excited though was the one new booth that did catch my eye, and it was a company called Root.
In the last two years, I have been deep in the maker space world as KSU iTeach has built their maker library and done numerous events. One of the significant parts of those events is coding robots. As we have added to our library, I think I have tried them all. Every single one of them has had something that is a bit of annoyance. I think some have very low ceilings of activities you can do with them, some have charging issues, some have intense apps, some put character over functionality, and others don't give you the ability to move from pre-reader, to block, to real code easily. There has never been one that truly nails it.
After seeing Root, I think they may be the closest thing to genuinely nailing it. Root looks like a tiny Roomba, but it's a little Roomba with a whole lot of functionality. It is genuinely the first coding robot that impressed me from the get-go.
The first thing I look at when I see these robots is the actual coding interface. There are many out there that can be a jumbled mess, and there are others that require multiple apps or even numerous devices to move from pre-reader, to block, to text code. Root solves that issue all in one app. The app they showed me is a super simple coding editor that allows the student to see the possible commands as they are working. It also has a super simple level picker in the bottom left corner that lets you move from level 1 (pre-reader) to level 2 (block), to level 3 (Python, Java, and Swift). Having this is so awesome because it lets teachers and students move up without ever leaving the app!
The second thing I look for is functionality. The power of coding robots is really in what you can build for the robot. I feel like some have made the mistake of having odd shapes which prevents creativity in what you can create to go with it. I think Root's flat shape means you can build almost anything to go with it! You could easily attach chariots and move it through an obstacle course. You could also make the thing almost any character. Its top surface is even writable which opens up worlds of creativity.
The robot has three key features built into it which I think I add even more possibilities. To start, it climbs walls. With that, I think you can learn all sorts of scientific concepts you can't get with other robots, and I think the data you can pull from it would be amazing. It also lets you put a marker in the middle of it to give it the capability to draw. This fits right in with geometry curriculum as you can easily draw geometric shapes. Last but not least, it has color sensors on the bottom that let it follow and be coded with colored lines. There is another company that has this as their main feature, but it being on the Root robot means it has a much higher ceiling.
Root is not out yet, but if you can wait, I would suggest waiting for it. It's for sure coming out this year (they have been doing a major promotional push), and in my mind, it's better to wait on the better product rather than getting stuck with something that is substandard. Check them out at http://www.codewithroot.com/