Today there’s a huge push to get kids ready for STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – careers and education. The first step in this, I’d argue, is to pique their interest in such subjects by showing them the amazing things that can be accomplished with these pursuits.
While exposing them to technology through books or TV shows can be great, more hands-on methods would likely be an excellent next step. Of course, most parents can’t afford an industrial-style six-axis robot, and likely wouldn’t want to trust their kids with it, so there has to be some middle ground. As an affordable and apppropriate “STEM toy for kids of all ages,” Elecrow is now crowdfunding their LEGO-compatible Crowbits building sets on Kickstarter.
Each of these kits include LEGO-compatible building modules, along with electronics that attach together with magnets. So kids (or adults) simply have to push them together based on the included directions, creating everything from simple electromecahical toys, to a working game system, and even an actual cell phone.
As outlined on their campaign page, their kits come in three difficulty levels, appropriate for different ages and learning levels, in five sets. The most basic, and the least expensive of these is the “Hello Kit,” which features a power supply, various sensors, and foldable cardboard designs. The Explorer Kit expands on this to create more LEGO-like robots (including a four-legged walker that I put together in around 30 minutes).
The Inventor and Creator Kit take things even further, which include a micro:bit-compatible module and Uno respectively, allowing you to program then for more advanced tasks. Finally, the Master Kit lets you build an actual cell phone or even a gaming system, which seems like a lot of fun.
Lots more info is found on their campaign, but one has to always wonder whether such campaigns are really ready to deliver on their promises. The kits are scheduled for delivery in June 2021, and this March they sent me an Explorer Kit, and Inventor Kit, and a Master Kit to review.
The kits look fantastic, and with the exception of one manual that had to be downloaded (and will be included for backers), appear fully complete. One would assume that they’ll be able to get things together in a few months, and it seems that they are well ahead of the game at this point!
In the Explorer Kit, I couldn’t resist putting together their four-legged walker. The printed directions to be quite good, with the exception of one or two minor errors that they say will be corrected for mass production. I had it walking around on my desk after somewhere around 30 minutes of assembly, though perhaps I had a bit of a head start, given my mechanical walker experience.
Either way, it was quite fun. I even hooked up their RF unit with no instructions, and was able to get it to start/stop remotely. This kind of accessible experimentation should be a lot of fun for kids, and with the magnetic attachment is really just a matter of putting things into place.
Considering each kit is under $100, these sets are worth the price. One minor annoyance was that hen testing the strandbeest-ish walker, I found that the battery pack didn’t adhere to the nubs as well as I’d hoped. Maybe when actual production starts this will be corrected, but if not, it’s really not a deal-breaker.
The LEGO compatibility is quite good when I did a few limited tests. Nub adherence seems to be more variable than actual LEGO bricks, as seemingly evidenced with the battery pack. Perhaps this is more a testament to LEGO's quality control, which I’ve come to really appreciate over the years. While the Crowbits’ compatibility would likely be be a good thing from a users point-of-view, purists may want to keep things separate to avoid frustration.
From a parent’s point of view, or even for educators on a larger scale, these sets are fantastic. They could be a great way to keep kids productively entertained, possibly leading to bigger and better things in the future. If you're really excited about the idea, you can even pledge roughly $354 to receive all five kits as a crowdfunding reward!