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While many Stem Robotic kits require kids to build a robot first and program it second, Wonder Workshop takes a different approach. Its Dash robot comes pre-assembled and ready to teach programming lessons right out of the box. The brightly colored automaton, which looks like a set of three turquoise balls with an infrared eye and wheels below, is filled with personality. And its App is addictive. Kids, even those who can’t read all the text direction in the software, will learn a lot from Dash and even more from optional accessories like the Sketch kit, which I also tested.
The adorable little rolling robot has a “goofy” personality and plenty to do to keep you entertained. My six year old grandnephew doesn’t have advanced reading skills yet, but he had no problem navigating through the interface and writing simple programs on all four of the available apps.
For the latest List of devices compatible with Dash, Dot, and Cue(Dot and Cue are the two optional additional robots that work with Dash) please, click on this link Wonder Workshop Device Compatibility.
There are four main apps that you can use with the Dash robot: Wonder, Go, Blockly, and Path. You need at least one of these apps to make it do pretty much anything. All four are available for IOS and Android; all but Go are available for Amazon Fire devices. While at first, it seemed weird that there are four different apps for the same robot(five if you count Xylo, which controls the Xylophone accessory), this setup makes each app much easier to navigate, especially for a beginner. A child will not get overwhelmed with too many choices.
While your device will need to connect to the Internet in order to update Dash and download programs, Dash communicates with your device via Bluetooth, so once Dash is set up, everything else can be done without the Internet. You also can connect Dash to multiple devices(although not at the same time).
I connected and disconnected from Dash dozens of times and had no issues. You can build programs in the app without being connected to Dash, which is great for saving the battery.
After a little searching, I turned Dash on(the power button is not the big obvious button on Dash’s head, but rather his small button on his side). He lit up, moved around a bit and made some noise. I opened the Wonder app, which made its own noises and easily added my Dash to the app by pressing the “+” in the top right corner.
I was asked if I wanted to update Dash and I was warned that this could take up to 30 minutes(sounds familiar, smartphones, tablets, PCs when they have a software update). So, I plugged him in and started the process(while Dash comes with a USB charging cable, he can be charged using any micro-USB cable). The update took less than 10 minutes, and then I had the opportunity to customize him a little. I gave him a name, chose a color for his expressive lights, set his volume and picked a personality. Dash was ready to go.
The Wonder app walked me through some basic programming lessons. While these drag-and-drop functions are pretty easy to figure out, there are also hints along the way if you’re having trouble. However, the language for some of the hints seemed out of whack with the simplicity of the rest of the app. For example: “HINT: Drag out a Celebrations state. Link the state with an Autocue”. Luckily, there are also animation and videos in case the language isn’t clear.
Dash has three main functions: he can move, make sounds and light up. You can combine these functions in an infinite number of ways.
Dash’s light-up game is on point. He has lights on his large eyeball, a triangular light on his neck and lights where his ears would be. The big button on its head also lights up. There are three smaller buttons on top of its head as well, and these can be programmed.
Dash interacts with you naturally, making noise if you move around in front of him, pick him up, or accidentally kick him. He has a microphone and an infrared sensor, both of which can be used for programming him to do things, like avoid objects or listen for a voice command.
According to the Wonder Workshop website, Dash should work continuously for about 90 minutes on a full charge. When the battery goes down to 10%, whichever app you are using with Dash will give you a notification and the power button will glow. In my test, it performed better than that. I got the 10% battery warning after 101 minutes of almost continuous use via Bluetooth, and it lasted 36 minutes after that, for a total of 137 minutes on one charge!
The lessons got me as far as I needed in order to try out Free Play and make my own programs(although some of the more complicated functions were still locked, waiting for me to complete more challenges). New programs are automatically given a name, but you can change them.
I was able to choose from a long list of commands. Dash’s skills including spinning, moving, circumnavigating other objects and understanding commands(like clapping). You can even make 10 different recordings and put those into programs(my grandnephew woke up to Dash spinning around and saying “Good morning Jake!” in a high version of my voice). You can try these functions while programming Dash too; you don’t have to wait until you are finished. While the app is running it makes a little sound as it moves to each new command, and you can follow the progress on the screen.
Once you have created a program, it can run through the app, or transferred to Dash and run by pressing on the big button on top of its head(you have to disconnect your Bluetooth from Dash in order to run a downloaded program via the top button, however, and Dash will only store one of these programs at a time).
The best part about creating a program is that you can generate a key to give to someone else with a Dash, and they can download, run and edit it! This is huge. It could also be a really fun way to exchange messages with a friend.
Even though I was using a tiny iPod screen, I had no problem moving the programming pieces around and changing their values. Connecting them to each other sometimes took a few tries, but was much easier on a bigger screen. Angles and length can only be set in multiples of five, which keeps things on the simple side. Measurements are in centimeters.
In addition to programming Dash, you can move him around using the Controller. The left controller moves him forward and backward and turns him around, and the right controller turns his head. The color of its lights and his speed can be changed with sliders, and he can make noises(including ones that you can record via the Controller, or recordings you make in Free Play). There’s also a tilt function where you can hold down the left controller and simply tilt your device to make Dash move.
There’s a section that keeps track of things like which cues, or commands, you have unlocked and which challenges you have completed. Kids(and parents) can use this feature to track their progress and how much they have learned.
There’s a Secret Menu that allows you to do things like resetting the app, turn certain features on and off and unlock cues ant the Wonder Cloud without completing challenges. Instructions for getting the Secret Menu can be found here.
The Wonder Cloud, which can be unlocked through challenges (or the Secret Menu-see above) contains downloadable programs that you can run and change.
The Blockly App lets you move beyond the Free Play programming in the Wonder app to a form of programming centered on dragging and dropping blocks of instructions. I had so much trouble moving the blocks on my little iPod Touch screen that I had to connect it to a larger screen, my Fire 8 HD. I had no trouble moving any pieces around on that. You can save these programs and thanks to a recent update of the app you can now share them as well.
The Go App is an even simpler version of the controller in the Wonder App. If a child is having trouble making Dash move the way they want him to, this would be a good app to try instead. You can move Dash with the controller on the left side of the screen, move its head around on the right side, have him make noises(included animal noises!), and light up in different patterns.
With the Path App, you can draw paths on your screen, insert simple commands, like noises and lights, to execute along the path. If Dash hits an obstacle, you’re given the choice to move him and reset to the beginning or to try to push it through the obstacle. There are challenges to beat, which unlock more command and challenges.
Dash comes with two blue LEGO connectors that snap into Dash’s ears, allowing you to build other things onto Dash. This is a great way to combine an analog toy you probably already have with Dash and really get creative.
There are various other accessories available separate for Dash, such as Xylophone that you can program Dash to play with the Xylo app, a bulldozer bar that you can attach to Dash and used to move small items, or a launcher, which can be used to throw small balls or wads of paper.
To make use of the Xylo app, you will need the Xylophone accessory that is sold separately. The 8 bar xylophone attaches to Dash’s front. The mallet attachment connects to Dash’s head. With both components in place, Dash is ready to play.
Using the Xylo app, kids can program a series of notes for Dash to perform. Each set of notes can be accompanied by a motion(such as Dash moving forward or turning around) and can be repeated 1-4 times before moving on to the next set.
Inputting tunes and then watching Dash play them is cool, but Xylo is an awfully threadbare app. It needs a mode in which kids tap a xylophone image and watch as Dash mimics their actins in real-time; that’s such an obvious application! It would also be great if the app came with some pre-programmed tunes like “twinkle twinkle little star” for kids to enjoy.
The kit was very easy to assemble, but if you have trouble getting started there are instructions here. There’s also a blog post from Wonder Workshops that has helpful tips. The Sketch Kit has a harness that slides onto the bottom of Dash, with a round part that goes in his ear. You have to make sure that the arrow on that round part is pointing up when Dash’s head is level so that there’s enough tension for the harness to lift the marker up.
The kit includes six, pyramidal dry-erase markers, which fit into the harness(one at a time). I do wish that the kit accommodated custom round marker so Dash could also write on paper, but I can understand why a triangle-shaped marker would be the most secure in the holder. The markers snapped in secure when I used the holder.
Sketch Kit works with both the Wonder and the Blockly apps(although there’s not stopping you from just using the Controller or Go app and driving around with a marker attached). I would advise you to never ever put a marker into the holder until you’re actually ready to set Dash down on a whiteboard because the marker will mark up your floor or rug immediately.
You will also get six double-sided cards with the Sketch Kit. Each side has a key for downloading a program. I tried a couple of them(without the marker in, luckily) on the biggest whiteboard I had, but didn’t have enough room to do even the simplest one. The Whiteboard mat that Wonder Workshop sells is 3×6 feet, and if you want to draw any of their programs that kind of space is really necessary.
Instead, I tried my hand at some simple programs, which were fun. I used the Wonder app and programmed Dash to set the marker down on the board, draw lines of certain lengths and make 45 degrees turns between each one, then lift the marker and move it out the way. I could see a child, or myself, getting really into designing complex patterns.
While I don’t think the Sketch Kit is reason enough to get a Dash, it really is a fun add-on. However, I recommend the Whiteboard Mat in order to get the most out of the kit.
The Bottom Line
Dash itself is worth the money. It’s easy to use(as long as your device is compatible) and has almost limitless programming options. With functionality split between different apps, Dash can grow with your child while at the same time not overwhelming a younger child with too many options. And the many accessories available can extend Dash’s usefulness even further.
Dash can’t teach your kids an actual programming language, you would have to move up to Cue for that,(see my review on Cue in the near future)but it can help your children to think the way a programmer thinks, figure out steps and put everything together. Some of the Hints meant to be helpful don’t seem geared toward a young child’s reading level, and precise movements aren’t possible since the angle and distance controls are only in multiples of five, but overall this is an excellent toy that should hold a child’s interest for a long time.
The Wonder Workshop Dash is designed for children of ages 6 years and up.
For a quick video overview of the Dash Robot click here.