Toy Spy Robots: A Practical Way to Teach Programming

Seymour Papert taught us years ago the most effective way to teach computer programming to children was to make it fun, and MIT’s Logo programming language remains popular (and free). Since then, other languages designed to teach programming concepts have been developed, including Scratch, Game Maker, and Alice. (I wrote an article on educational programming languages for TechEdge that is online here.)

From a commercial standpoint, especially with languages like Logo, the urge to combine programming with real world robotics has been highly successful, most notably with the Lego Mindstorms line of products. Now, a new company has developed a toy spy robot that will encourage the creation and posting of programs by its fans.

Spy Video TRAKR

The Spy Video TRAKR from Wild Planet Entertainment will blend online and offline fun for budding robotics enthusiasts. Offline, the target market of eight-year-old and older boys can guide the remote controlled vehicle into other rooms and use its wireless camera for surveillance. Taking a tip from Webkinz, which ties an online product with toys in the real world, the Spy Video TRAKR will offer strong inducements to play on their site. Here’s a quote from a recent news article:

Wild Planet says the Trakr goes a step further than other Web-tied toys. It sends children online to create application and then brings them back to the toy, instead of just leaving them playing related games online.

The marketing pitch for this seems brilliant. The toy will function as a spy robot right out of the box, but for the kid who wants more, plenty of customization is offered, whether it’s an app downloaded from the site or one he makes on his own. Here’s part of the press release:

Though the Spy Video TRAKR can be used without ever being hooked up to a computer, tech-minded kids will be quick to connect their toy and start the customization process. Beginners can access an online application modulator that will allow them to modify existing apps as they familiarize themselves with writing code. All the tools they need to write their own unique programs will be available online, for free.

The toy will be available in October, in time for Christmas, and should retail for about $120. I wish the best for Wild Planet, and I hope their new product is highly successful. Also, hopefully, it will encourage many new future programmers to pursue careers in the STEM fields.

Zimmerman, A. (February 10, 2010). I spy a market for kids. The Wall Street Journal, D1.


  • By Teressa, February 26, 2010 @ 10:34 pm

    I totally agree with this article! Making learning fun and interactive is such a big hit with students today, especially in the K-6 environment. Creating simulations is something that is having a positive effect on schools today. In my one class, my group and I created a company that developed simulations for the K-12 schools and vocational schools as well and we felt was a huge success. We used Thinking Worlds and SecondLife in order to form our instruction developed within our company. Adobe Flash was also a main component in our designs and were used in our “mini-games” that concentrated on five areas: Technology, Spelling, Science, Math and Geography. Every game that we developed were interactive and allowed the student to use the computer in order to learn as well as their classmates which in the end developed strong group skills.
    The Spy Video TRAKR is an example on how much our world is becoming advanced by the minute. I am so excited to see what each new year brings to us. We have progressed so much in the last decade that I am stoked to see what the next ten years will bring. This “toy” also represents how a child can have fun and learn at the same time and frankly that’s what every teacher should be incorporating into their lesson plans these days: fun. Make learning fun and pretty sure your students will WANT to learn and get excited over the little activities that teach them.

  • By Fun Toy Robots, April 28, 2010 @ 11:38 am

    Man, where were these great robot toys when I was a kid? All we had a Big Trak and that robot arm that could play chess, but they were so expensive and painful to use. At least I have kids now, so I can enjoy these great robot toys.

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