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Robot Round-Up! The Best Bots of Bett

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Last week the British Educational Training and Technology Show, now known as Bett, showcased the best edtech companies from over 131 countries. For four days, Excel London was packed with guest speakers, product demonstrations, and industry insiders, and over 850 companies unveiled their latest innovations. Our intrepid founder, Heather Lyons, scoped the aisles of this education hub to take in the latest robots on the education market, from pre-assembled robots like Dot, Dash, Cubetto, and Sphero, and robotic add-ons for Raspberry Pi, micro:bit, and Arduino.

The robots Dash and Dot (from Wonder Workshop) are compelling, cute, and robust. With their light-up “eye” and bright turquoise and green colors, the robots exude an engaging ‘personality’ and also pack block-based coding into a pint-sized package. Though friendly in their presentation, Heather voiced the limitations as she said, “As pre-assembled robots, I’m always concerned as to how much time children can realistically spend with them in a classroom environment: children are essentially programming the same character and there’s little scope for customisation.” That being said, she agreed that the programming apps and lesson plans that come with these are very well-conceived and the robots are easy to use out of the box.

Other ready-made robots that grabbed the attention of the crowd were Sphero and Cubetto. There were some interesting applications for Sphero on display: it can even be used underwater! Our friends at Primo Toys won the award for Best Early Years Content, and we can see why. At blue{shift}, we are big Cubetto fans; this friendly wooden robot introduces some of our youngest students to coding without the need for a screen.

With regards to robots that children can design themselves, the inventor’s kit for Pi-Top impressed not only our founder but also educators and customers alike. Bundled with the new Pi-Top laptop, the inventor’s kit, full of electronic accessories and LEDs, comprises a set of tutorials that allow students to build small interactive robots. Though the kit sparks imagination, the main drawback of the Pi-Top laptop is the price — nearly £300 each after you’ve purchased the Raspberry Pi. Still, with its innovative and creative technology, it won the Innovation Prize at Bett with good reason!

Though many exhibits dazzled the judges, Heather was struck by the innovation on display from Hummingbird Robotics. The exhibit, which had a super-fun robot petting zoo on display, wowed every spectator that walked by — but these robots are more than just for show. This standout product combines creativity and coding seamlessly. In Heather’s words:

“Hummingbird’s kit allows for a combination of arts, crafts and robotics that is really unique, really challenges students to think about robotics in a very real way, and is gender neutral! I loved it.”

With over 34,000 visitors, the Bett landscape can be quite overwhelming, and what is more challenging is that there is not a single robotics product that ticks all the boxes for all age groups and educational purposes. Though there are pre-assembled robots and electronics you build yourself, there are also products that lie somewhere in between, such as Lego WeDo. Looking back the at event, it makes us question how educators and schools can utilise these new gadgets realistically and effectively within their curriculum. While the Raspberry Pi is a terrific educational tool, it still costs nearly £300 once you purchase all the add-ons, and cannot really compete with a traditional computer in terms of processing power. Needless to say, this can be challenging for schools trying to determine where to allocate their already stretched budgets. Though Bett is over for another year, we’re sure it’s only the beginning of innovation in the edtech sector in 2018.