The following is a sponsored review done in partnership with Dash Robotics. The opinions of the product are unbiased and are solely those of the author.
Dash Robotics is a spinoff robotics startup kindled from the labs of UC Berkeley. Their expertise is in the technology of animal-inspired robots. This relatively new approach to robot design essentially gives robots the ability to crawl over multiple types of terrain, travel at nimble speeds, and withstand devastating drops. Like a roach, so to speak.
Their latest robot offspring is Kamigami, a rebranded and reskinned version of the original crawling robot named Dash. It’s a small, bug-like robotics kit that lets kids build and program their own robot. Something that would make for a kick-ass STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) toy.
Let me premise the fact that Kamigami is not your typical robotics kit. It’s flat out different from the rest. Kamigami is a kit where you fold and connect flat pieces of vinyl and nylon to make the three-dimensional robot. Add in the circuit board with the folded frame and you’ve got a full-fledged insect robot. It’s quite similar to Japanese origami; hence the name “Kamigami.”
Kamigami ships inside a small box containing all the necessary parts: flat plastic sheets, plastic rivets, circuit board and motors, and USB charging cable.
Putting the Kamigami together is a breeze, and it’s designed that way. Kids (with help from an adult) simply fold the sheets of plastic together to form the almost indestructible frame, add in the pre-built circuit board (which includes the motors), and attach the colorful plastic cover for a bit of character. In this review, the Kamigami features the blue “Musubi” cover. Dash Robotics does offer a green “Goki” cover and a red “Inari” cover if you’re not big on the blue aesthetic.
Once in final form, Kamigami can be powered on and wirelessly connected to its app for driving, games, and programming (a beta feature). The app is available for iOS and there’s a beta for Android; both versions are free and pair with Kamigami through Bluetooth for an easy connection. I’m reviewing the iOS app in particular.
The app pitches users with a basic user interface ridden with a few modes: drive, afraid of the dark, freeze tag, sampler pack, and sumo.
Drive lets you control Kamigami with a single joystick, and there’s a slider to adjust the speed along with a few buttons to select Kamigami’s LED eye color. With Kamigami’s design mimicking that of nature’s finest creatures, the robot is quick and agile. Kamigami can clamber over carpet, hardwood, tile, gravel, concrete, and sand. Grass is about the only surface Kamigami doesn’t agree with, but nonetheless, it runs like hell on any other surface you toss it on.
“Afraid of the dark” is a sample mode of what’s to come in the next app update. Using the embedded ambient light sensor, Kamigami will actively avoid the dark by spinning around in circles if its sensor doesn’t detect any light. You can still drive Kamigami around using the joystick featured in drive mode, but this mode is programmed to freak the robot out when no light is detected. This mode is fun the first time, but annoying the second you realize it’s pretty sensitive on what’s considered dark. Incandescent light bulbs are enough to send the robot spiraling.
Freeze tag is a game mode that lets two Kamigami robots chase each other in a game of classic freeze tag. This mode obviously requires more than one Kamigami connected to its own device. With only one in this review, I wasn’t able to test out this feature. Essentially, it utilizes the infrared receivers and transmitters located on the front and back of Kamigami to “tag” the other Kamigami.
Next up is sampler pack, a set of three actions that control Kamigami with the tap of a button. One button sends Kamigami spinning in a weird formation to a cheesy beat, while the other two drive Kamigami in a zig-zag and circle.
Lastly, sumo mode is a game in which two Kamigami robots face off in robot-styled sumo wrestling. The objective of the game is to flip the opponent Kamigami upside down to score points. Scoring three points is a win and it’s game over.
The current app in all its simplistic glory could use a little dose of STEM. Remote controlling and playing games with Kamigami is engaging for kids, but that’s after they’ve experienced the short-lived hour of building the actual robot. And the building part is about the only STEM education Kamigami is offering at the moment.
Luckily, there’s an update on the way for iOS and Android which is slated to include a drag and drop programming interface similar to the kid-friendly coding “language” Scratch.
The beta is open for iOS and Android, and Dash Robotics is currently giving away invites to those wanting to give the beta a test run. You can bug Dash Robotics here if you’ve already purchased a Kamigami and are, for whatever reason, still reading this read-before-you-actually-buy-the-product review. Terrible jokes aside, the beta places Kamigami on the next level of STEM education toys.
I’ve tested the beta in full detail, and here’s what I’ve concluded. For starters, the new interface is significantly more branded than before; it features flat and colorful visuals that match the Kamigami brand. More importantly, the beta is equipped with a native programming environment that lets kids create programs for Kamigami.
Similar to programs like Scratch and Tickle, the programming environment is set up to include code-free blocks of triggers and actions. Triggers are blocks that execute certain actions when triggered. They range from the robot detecting light to falling over. Action blocks are set within the trigger blocks and they control how the robot reacts when triggered. A few action blocks include move forward, spin, and set eye color. A program is complete when one or more trigger blocks has an action block to execute. It’s that simple.
The caveat of this kid-friendly programming is that it’s a bit too basic. There are no loops, conditionals, or other basic components used in actual programming, and this hinders the ability to customize the robot’s actions and evolve the way kids play with Kamigami. It is as if the app has devolved from powerful educational tools like Scratch.
Overall, the app’s visual programming is engaging and educational. It’s a fun way for kids to practice logical problem solving and abstract thinking. The straight-forward interface is friendly for all age groups, but at the same time, it restricts the full potential of the Kamigami platform due to its lack of core programming concepts. Kamigami are equipped with a plethora of sensors so the door for more advanced programming is still open.
The nitty gritty details of Kamigami are surprisingly short and sweet. Battery life is about thirty minutes on a single charge via USB charging. Expect a 30-foot range indoors and a 20-feet outdoors with Bluetooth. The app is available for iPhones and iPads running iOS 8.2 or above, and the beta is available for Android devices running KitKat 4.4.
Dash Robotics has done an exceptional job at creating a unique and educational robotics toy that merges hands-on building with graphical programming. Whereas the vast majority of educational robotics kits lack either building or programming, Kamigami provides the complete package at a price that won’t burn as big as a hole in your wallet as the competition. Building Kamigami is a blast as is the app with its remote control and game modes. The app-enabled programming is easy to learn and use without any hiccups or bugs, but it wouldn’t hurt if it had more complex programming to expand the robot’s capabilities. Dash Robotics is currently selling their animal-inspired Kamigami robots for $99 each on their website.