Playtime meets programming tool in Ozobot’s Evo, “the smart and social robot toy.” Well, let’s not get too carried away. Evo responds to programming, but that doesn’t exactly make it smart. I’m not sure a bunch of flashing lights, beeps, and whirrs qualify as social, but I suppose I’ve seen worse on Facebook.
The $99 Evo is the second robot from Ozobot, and like its predecessor, Bit, it’s a golfball-sized gizmo that trudges around the floor or table, responding to commands. As with Bit, you can code Evo by simply drawing lines on paper. An optical sensor can detect what color the ink is, and it will follow along a basic black line or speed up when it hits a patch of blue. But let’s be honest: That stuff is really boring, and Ozobot knows it. Hence Evo’s big upgrade: a full-fledged programming system that lets users code actions directly into the robot.
If you’ve ever used Blockly, the kid-friendly language designed for students, you’ll be right at home with OzoBlockly. In fact, OzoBlockly is even easier than Blockly, as it offers four different levels of complexity you can use, ranging from an icons-only novice mode to a quite complex advanced version, complete with complex math functions. Ambitious users can program Evo to count colors it encounters and perform other algorithmic feats. In truly lets programming come to life.
Evo can also be driven manually like any old robot, via an intuitive control app, or it can be left to explore on its own like a Roomba. (Multiple Evos are said to interact with each other, but I was only given one to test.) The special version I received ($125) includes an Iron Man skin that pops on top of Evo and turns him into a rolling Tony Stark torso, complete with his own tinny catchphrases. (“Oh yeah!”) For the five-and-under set that’s more interested in flashing lights and superheroes, this might hold more interest than the naked robot does. The skin also protects it from being carried away by the cat.
Evo is a neat idea, but it’s not exactly plug and play. The two-step process required to code Evo is weird and overcomplicated. You run the Evo app on your phone or tablet, but you do the actual coding in a separate web browser. When you’re ready to run, you manually tell the browser to send the code to the app, then the app sends the code to the robot. Both of these seem connections seem to be tenuous, and my testing required force quits and reboots numerous times along the way. And every tweak you make to your code means running through that process again. It’s a convoluted and buggy series of steps that will likely lead any ADD-affected youth to abandon any complex programming job after a few frustrating code refreshes. My ten-year-old son quickly tired of it and went back to trying to master BB-8.
As an educational tool, Evo is a winner, and I can see it really enhancing a classroom programming setting. As a toy, though, it’s on the eh side of meh.
6/10 – Solid with some issues.