The 10 Best Robots For Kids
The Beginning Of The End
Call me an alarmist if you will, but these robots are getting too smart. It's only a matter of time before they become sentient, and then all bets are off. The different kind of smarts ought to scare you in different ways, all of which, I'm sure, are delightful to the children interacting with them.
There are robots that can walk and talk and play a variety of games, all controlled by a simple interface with your smartphone. There are robots that have specific targeting systems built into them, as well. That might make for a nice comprehensive game of fetch, but those targeting systems are one mad scientist's experimental program away from changing the recipient of their focus to your vital organs. Fetch has never had higher stakes.
Maybe I'm getting worked up over nothing. After all, these are pretty small machines, right? It's like how I always felt watching the Child's Play movie franchise, the one with the little kid's doll who comes to life and goes on a killing spree. I never understood what stopped the protagonists from just drop-kicking him across the lawn and being done with it. There's nothing of a truly threatening size, is there?
Oh, wait. There is one, and we've rated it extremely highly on our list. This thing is four feet tall, and if I've learned anything from watching Jujitsu competitions, it's that size isn't always an advantage. Four feet ought to be plenty, especially if you're made entirely of steel with 10 independent motors articulating your movement.
It isn't just the brawn we need to worry about, either. A lot of these robots record sounds to flash memory and access WiFi with the greatest of ease. Imagine if Nixon had had something akin to it.
For all my fear mongering about the impending robotic Apocalypse, I hope you can see the humor in it. When your kids crack into these robots and either start assembling them, or just start playing with the ones that require no assembly, you'll see the sheer joy the toys impart on a developing brain.
Depending on the age of the child in question, and on his or her interest in the field, different bots will satisfy different tots.
Some of these robots come fully assembled right out of the package. All you need to do is charge them up or add a fresh set of batteries and the play begins. Others require a much more intensive assembly process designed to give your child the feeling that they are the very engineers of mankind's destruction–er–I mean, of their playtime. The engineers of their playtime.
If your kid's a card-carrying member of the instant gratification club, you might not get as many miles out of a robot that calls for a detailed and patient in-house manufacture. The risk you run is that it'll never get fully built in the first place, and all that time, and money, and effort will have been for naught.
On the other hand, should your child display an acute aptitude for spacial reasoning and mechanical engineering, one of the larger, more complicated DIY robots can be the start of a very bright future in the STEM programs.
Either way, narrowing down your list of robot options starts with knowing your kids. And if your little one becomes the man or woman to unknowingly tip the scales against humanity in the years to come, you'll at least have a bit of pride to feel alongside all that fear.
A Slow And Steady Revolution
While the notion of robotic companions reaches back at least to Greek mythology, the practical implementation of robots as toys for children has a more recent history. In the 50s and 60s, toy robots were basically dolls with square bodies that looked more like elaborate walking toasters than anything else. Slowly, but surely, that would all change.
A friend of mine owned an interactive toy robot when we were about 10. It operated on cassette tapes along with a system of yes/no, true/false and other binary questions marked along the tape. When you answered a question, it would tell you whether you were right or wrong and play out the following section of tape, which explained the right answer.
The toy was called 2-XL, and it was an updated version of a toy made by the same company in the late 70s. The 90s version looked a lot less like a tape player and a lot more like a robot, somewhere between Rosie from The Jetsons and the antagonist of a forgettable 90s VR action-thriller called Evolver.
While 2-XL had personality, he didn't really have any kind of mobility, and that's at least half the fun with robotics.
Those joint structures, along with facial recognition software and other advances that are developing at an incredible rate among robots in the US and Japan, are also creeping their way into our kids' toys.
It's unlikely that we need to worry about the robots indoctrinating them to their side in the great technological wars to come, when man and machine face off in one protracted contest for superiority with the very planet upon which these wars rage standing as the sole potential spoil. Having your kids more familiar with the bots might give them a tactical advantage on the battlefield, though.