There are many toys on the market today that promise to teach kids programming skills, and a good percentage require the use of a connected tablet or smartphone. At a time when parents are already struggling to keep kids’ screen time to a minimum, father and entrepreneur Nader Hamda wanted to build something different. He also observed a lot of expensive educational toys on the market, and wanted to create an affordable alternative to reach a broad population of schools and students.His creation, the Ozobot, is a line of toy robots about the size of a golf ball that follow lines that kids draw with markers on white paper. Kids can use different colors to change the Ozobot’s movement or behavior. The toy robots can work offline, but can also be controlled by an Ozobot mobile app, where kids also learn to write programs that they can later send to each other by text message. When they send each other one of these programs, it controls the recipient’s nearby Ozobot.
The company’s starter kit costs about $60. The toys are sold online directly by Ozobot, or through major brick and mortar retailers, including Barnes & Noble and Toys “R” Us. They will soon be available at Best Buy and Target, Hamda says. More than half a million Ozobots have been sold to kids, families and educators. That’s including the original Ozobot, Bit and newer Evo edition Ozobots.
Ozobot competes with a bevy of smart-toy brands, from the makers of Dash & Dot to the Anki Cozmo, to Bots_alive and Osmo. But, Hirsch suggests, this isn’t a “winner take all” market. Thinking back on all the great toy brands that the 80s yielded, from Transformers to Speak and Spell, or to something more contemporary like Minecraft, it’s not hard to see several big winners in this space.