You are quite likely to find motorised floor robots, such as the BeeBot, in pre-school and the early years of primary school. They are simple to use and an entertaining way to get young children starting out on coding.
The Bee Bot
This popular floor robot is styled as a bumble bee with a series of buttons on the top that children can use to programme the robot’s movements. They are suitable for an age range of around 3-5 years and cost about £70/US$90.
There are seven buttons, which look slightly different on different models but do the same thing:
Back and Forward: Move the robot in a straight line a fixed distance (approximately 15 cm) for each press.
Left and Right: Turn the robot 90 degrees anti-clockwise and clockwise respectively but do not move the robot forwards or backwards.
Pause: Causes the robot to pause for one second
Clear: Clears all the steps programmed into the robot ready for a new programme.
Go: Starts the programme.
To programme the floor robot you simply press the buttons. For example to turn right and then move forward 3 steps you would push the Right button once and then the Forward button three times.
A maximum of 40 commands can be stored in the robot.
Floor robots are often used with a floor mat which shows a particular diagram or map and allows the children to create a programme to navigate their way around. The mats usually show a grid of 15cm squares so that each square is one ‘step’ for the robot. Examples would be visiting a series of numbers on the mat in the correct order or going to particular shops in a village or negotiating a maze. These mats can follow a variety of themes and are often cross-curricula involving maths, science, and literacy etc as well as coding.
Here’s a very simple example to illustrate the principle:
Here the floor robot has to be programmed to get to the treasure chest without going onto the green ‘swamp’ areas. There are several solutions, but one is:
As an alternative to using mats, you could set up an ‘obstacle course’ with blocks, fences, tunnels etc and programme the robot to negotiate a route through to the target.
From a coding point of view the key learning objectives are:
- Exploring algorithms by working out the precise instructions needed to code the robot to achieve a given objective.
- Debugging the programme by identifying and then correcting mistakes in the instructions.
- Team work by working in small groups or pairs to discuss the project and find a solution.
Although floor robots appear very simple they help to develop some of the key skills needed for coding. They are a great stepping stone to the more advanced block-based coding programmes such as Scratch.