WeDo (currently in version 2.0) is aimed directly at the educational market, in particular tapping into the ongoing hype about STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). I’m amazed how simple it was to get set up and use to its full potential!As most people will have at least a passing familiarity with Mindstorms, it’s worth explaining what WeDo is by comparison.
- Components – Mindstorms is predominately Technic based construction. Wedo is mostly System, although it’s well suplemented with Technic axles, pulleys and gears.
- Intelligence – Mindstorms has an “Intelligent Brick” to which programs are uploaded then allowed to run in the device. WeDo has a “SmartHub” which is connected to a computer or tablet by bluetooth. The programs are actually run on the computer or tablet, so models cannot be autonomous. The smart hub continually transmits any sensor inputs from the model to the controlling device.
- Sensors – Mindstorms has a wide range of sensors – ultrasonic, colour, touch, infra-red etc. WeDo has two: a three axis accelerometer and what looks like an infra-red distance sensor. This is supplemented by using the microphone, keyboard and touch screen in the controlling device.
- Outputs – Mindstorms has a couple of different types of servo motors, and a backlit LCD screen and a speaker in the Intelligent Brick. WeDo has a multicolour LED and a single motor, this is supplemented by the speaker and screen of the controlling device.
- Market – There are educational and retail versions of Mindstorms. WeDo is only available as an educational product. (Boost, which is not yet released in Australia, is currently only a retail product with no educational version).
So WeDo 2.0 is a very simple robotics system compared to Mindstorms, it’s clearly aimed at the lower end of the school ages. In Australian Grade terms, I can imagine using it from years One to Six, with the sweet spot probably years Three & Four.
All of the builds included in the package are pretty straight forward, this is by design – given that a school period is usually going to be somewhere between 45 and 120 minutes, you don’t want to spend all that time building your robot. The first model in the set took me about five minutes, I would think a Year Three kid not familiar with Lego (if such a pitiful, neglected child actually exists) might have taken ten minutes at the outside.
The main competitors for WeDo are going to be pre-built robots. The disadvantage of building your own robot is that it might not work. I actually view this as an advantage – in Australia coding is done in the context of “Design and Technology” and overcoming the simple sort of problems students might face is great learning. The other huge advantage is that you get ten robots, plus a heap that your students can design themselves for to suit any learning challenge they are faced with.
There are some very disappointing reviews of WeDo 2.0 on the web that include horror stories of getting the bluetooth connection working correctly in Windows. I was using an iPad, and had zero drama. As long as bluetooth is turned on in your iPad, the process is painless, obvious and all carried out inside the WeDo 2.0 app. I haven’t tried doing it with many units all on at once in a classroom situation, but I’ve read elsewhere the hubs can be named to make that just as easy.
The app was a whopping 500MB download from the app store, and this doesn’t include the manuals (which I haven’t looked at yet 😉). It does include all the instructions for the builds, some videos explaining how to do things (like setup the bluetooth link which I did look at) and example programs. The app also makes it possible for students to answer asinine questions and document their builds and programming efforts.
The programming is done using the now familiar blocks a la Scratch. Conditional branching is catered for, multiple threads can be run with messaging between them. This would meet the requirements for the coding sections of the Australian Digital Technologies curriculum up to Year Six.
I found the programming straightforward, what wasn’t immediately obvious was easily fixed by looking at the coding examples available in the app.
The only surprises I got were related to state confusion. For example there are commands to set the motor speed (annoyingly and incorrectly called motor “power” in the app) and direction. These are remembered in the SmartHub. So it’s possible to have a program that runs differently on two separate occasions. My error was caused by imagining that those states would be returned to defaults at the start of each run. Always initialise your variables!
The SmartHub only has two connectors, two options for on-board sensors and a single motor output. This is a substantially simpler system than Mindstorms, which is perfect for the target market.
Although I’ve only spent about 15 minutes with this set, it seems like it is perfect for it’s designed application – of teaching rudimentary coding to primary school children. It couldn’t have been simpler to get going quickly. At $300, it’s not cheap, not even compared to the $700 for the base Mindstorms educational set. Other pre-built robot systems aimed at educational use are in the $100-$200 range. Even so, I think this is probably the primo solution for teaching Year 2-5’s.