"Boost" is Lego you can program with your tablet

04 October 2017

Lego Boost

The worst part about growing up is that modern toys keep getting cooler and cooler. Lego was a cornerstone of my childhood, and the company's now made me wish I could go back thanks to the local launch of Lego Boost.

Boost is essentially a set of five Lego creations that can then be programmed with the use of an iPad or Android tablet. In addition to the 843 standard Lego pieces you'll find in the box, there's three "Boost Bricks" that give your creations their smarts. These include an interactive monitor, a colour and distance sensor, and a Bluetooth connected "move hub".

In terms of programming Boost, you'll work with an icon-based drag-and-drop interface rather than having to actual write any code in the traditional sense. While you - or your kids - might not explicitly be learning a coding language, the Boost app does nonetheless rely on programming fundamentals such as conditional subroutines, looping, and algorithmic thinking.

In a way, it's a simplified version of Lego Mindstorms more so meant for kids seven and up.

The Boost kit comes with building and programming instructions for five designs - a robot, a cat, a guitar, an "autobuilder", and a rover - but you'll only be able to make one at a time.

Lego Boost is available now and retails for $249.99. Just make sure you have a tablet (an iPad running iOS 10 or better or an Android tablet running Lollipop or better), because even the instructions require the app. Oh, and six AAA batteries.

Sphero Mini

Lego isn't the only company playing in the programable toy space; Sphero has been building app-connected play things long before it shot to popularity with its line of Star Wars drones.

The company recently announced a new addition to its family - Sphero Mini - a ping-pong ball sized version of its original programmable robotic ball. Sphero Mini retains almost every feature from its larger sibling including a six-axis inertia sensor, gyroscope, accelerometer, and LED lights. The one key difference is that Sphero Mini isn't water resistant.

Sphero's suite of smartphone based programming apps look to be a touch more in-depth than the Lego Boost offering, and while they still don't require you to write code, they explore more core concepts. Notably, Sphero products are also compatible with Apple's Swift Playgrounds.

When we spoke to Sphero Director of Prototyping Jon Carrol earlier this year, he told us that Sphero is being used as an educational tool in about 25,000 schools across Australia, and 300,000 worldwide.

Sphero Mini will be in stores by the end of this week, retailing for $79.99.

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