Alexander Enoch is a roboticist twice over. Not only does he have a PhD in robotics from University of Edinburgh, where he specialized in designing walking bipedal bots, but he attained a Master of Engineering in robotics before that. So Enoch knows a good robot when he sees one—which is why he knew that what passed for robots in the educational aisle of his local toy store, well, weren't.
"They looked like robots, but they were just motorized toys," explains Enoch. The difference? "A real robot can be programmed to do things by itself, like interact with its environment." A lot of the robots he was seeing could be ordered around, but you couldn't really teach them to be autonomous. The ones that were autonomous weren't bipedal robots, which Enoch thought were coolest. Since he was looking for a gift for his talented, nerdy niece, he didn't want to settle for a robot that wasn't up to snuff.
So Enoch decided to create a toy robot himself. One that walked around on two legs and was as programmable as the robots he worked with in the lab—but could be bought at a toy robot price.
The result is Marty, an adorably blocky robot with Groucho Marx-style waggling eyebrows (fully programmable, natch) which kids can use to learn about robots, from building them to programming them.
If you opt to buy the whole kit, Marty comes shipped disassembled, so the first thing a kid learns when he or she opens the box is how to put a robot together. Marty is easily assembled by fitting his parts together—no soldering or screws required. Inside his robot chassis, he contains some bump sensors, an accelerometer, and a distance sensor, which allows him to do some simple navigation around his environment.
Marty also has a Wi-Fi module, allowing kids to plug him in and program him on any device—and even in any language, ranging from Scratch to Python. He even supports ROS, the robotic operating system that roboticists like Enoch use in academia to program robots. So Marty can be programmed to perform new dances, respond to stimulus in new ways (for example, if he falls over, kids can program Marty to right himself), and more.
But it doesn't end there. Enoch didn't want to design a robot toy that kids would easily outgrow, so Marty is also completely expandable. Slap another pair of legs on him, and he's a centaur. Connect a webcam, and he can see. Put a Raspberry Pi inside Marty, and supercharge his smarts. With the addition of a color detector, Marty could be programmed to play Red Light, Green Light. Enoch designed Marty so that kids could potentially use him as a tool for testing out their robot design concepts for many years as they grow and learn.
Now on Indiegogo, preorders for a Marty kit start at around $125, although if you have a 3D printer at home and don't mind using it to print out the chassis, a simple circuit board kit starts at less than $50. You can order one here.