The newest product from Sony’s Global Education unit, the Sony Koov is an all-in-one STEM learning toy aimed at teaching kids how to code via a unique combination of hardware and software. Initially launched in mainland China and Japan, the Koov proved a hit due to its ability to combine real life building blocks with code. Now, with a proven track record in Asia, Sony has decided to launch an Indiegogo campaign as it positions the product for US/European markets.
Unlike typical Sony products that are readily available for sale on the company’s website, the Koov is only available for pre-order via IndieGoGo. Sony explains that it chose the platform as a way to gain valuable feedback from parents in the US before a larger scale launch. The target fund raise is US$100,00 and deadline 20 July 2017. Interested buyers can purchase the Koov at a discounted early bird price of US$287 for a starter kit or US$159 for a basic package. While the starter kit’s entry price may be steep, it is a substantial discount from the US$359 retail price. If Sony reaches its fundraising goal by the deadline, Koov kits are expected to ship in November this year with all units shipping by the 10 December. Sony suggests that the Koov is best suited to children eight years of age and above.
How does it work?
Central to the Koov’s success among kids in Asia is that compared to many other modern STEM learning products, it features the use of robots along with conventional computer science ideas. Children can create controllable robots with a finite number of colourful blocks. There are seven different types of Koov blocks each in different colours, and the number of Koov blocks included with each Koov depends on the kind of kit purchased. After learning the necessary coding skills with Koov’s software, children can use these blocks like lego, which when combined sensors and actuators, create functional robots that can they program on their own.
Programming with the Koov is no different to the plethora of other online coding tools. It follows the tried and true drag and drop, block programming interface, reminiscent of Scratch (another popular block-based coding language for kids) and is easy to use for any child above the recommended age of eight. It is important to note that just like Scratch, the Koov’s coding language is very abstract. Abstract coding languages focus on coding concepts and ideas unlike concrete languages like Apple’s Swift which are detail and syntax oriented. That doesn’t mean that the Koov won’t teach kids about computer science, it’s just that the ideas are less specific and applicable to different computer science languages – so it’s more like learning early concepts than actual code. Programming on the Koov takes place on the Koov app that is available for free on IOS, Windows, and Mac.
For beginners unfamiliar with these concepts, the Koov comes with a complete learning course featuring over thirty hours of educational content. Besides an additional course targeted towards developing kid’s design thinking skills, the main learning on the Koov is divided into six sections with the content of each section ranging in difficulty and complexity. As children progress through each course, they are rewarded with badges to highlight their achievements, and a supporting cast of likeable robot characters are added to aid them with difficult questions. Unlike some of its competitors, all of the Koov’s learning content is available for free after the initial purchase which is helpful.
What can children create?
After learning how to code and use the device in the Koov’s learning center, kids can unlock the ability to create a lot of different robots with the included building blocks. From small vehicles to mechanical moving animals, the Koov’s sensors provide children with the ability to customise the function of their creations to their heart’s content. Connecting the robots with the sensors is easy enough as all children have to do is attach a sensor to a wired control box called the Koov core. Every Koov kit comes with a light sensor, IR photo reflector, and buzzer for kids to use in their robots. The Koov core is a small translucent plastic box that runs on three AA batteries and provides power to the Koov robot once connected. Connecting the Koov robot with the core is accomplished with included cables that vary in length from 20 to 45 cm. Once connected, the function of these sensors is easily available for access in the Koov app.
If kids are unsure of what to create with the Koov, the device comes with five different robot recipes for children to follow and learn from on the basic kit. The recipes vary in complexity and range from simple objects like boats and planes to more advanced designs like a whistle or lantern. Following the recipes is simple and clear, and Sony uses 3D tutorials to simplify the building process. For parents interested in purchasing more recipes, the starter Koov kit comes with nine additional recipes compared to the basic kit.
The Koov takes it further by combining coding with robots and sensors (a useful introduction to the world of IoT)
Like many other popular learning tools covered on this site, the Sony KOOV provides children with an excellent way to generate and further their interest in computer science via fun and interactive lessons. However, the Koov takes it further by combining coding with robots and sensors (a useful introduction to the world of IoT). This helps to widen its appeal beyond coding – which by itself may not engage all kids – to children who like building with lego or creating robots. In that way, its a great choice for parents of kids who like building something with blocks, with the additional option to program your creation. Many toys emphasise the coding first, play second, so this shift is a smart one by Sony and we will watch carefully to see if the Koov becomes the stand out coding toy in the market.