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These Robot Race Cars Make Machine Logic Fun

Sam Labs’ DIY Hot Wheels are the perfect foot in the door for the neonate coder.

Products that teach kids to code abound. From videogames to board games to robots to throwable smartballs, pretty much every notable new toy is all about tricking kids into inducting themselves into the basics of computer science. But then what? Where do kids go from there?

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Sam Labs, creators of the “Ultimate Internet Connected Electronics Kit,” has long been about teaching people to code with Lego-like intuitiveness. But none of its products were necessarily kid-friendly, let alone kid-first. Its new Curious line aims to address that starting with Curious Cars, a kid-friendly boxset of different sensors and parts perfect for putting together remote-controlled robot cars. And unlike a lot of “koding 4 kidz” products, it has a fleshed-out ecosystem to graduate into.

Curious Cars is a set of Sam blocks, arranged around the theme of remote-controlled cars. Like Sam’s larger product line, each of the six blocks included in a Curious Cars set is essentially an internet of things-connected sensor or button: two motors, an accelerometer, a light sensor, an on-off switch, and a slider. When strung together through the Curious Cars companion app, you can program these blocks to work in different configurations–a drag racer, for example, versus a truck or a bulldozer. And since most of what makes a car cool is its chassis, you can customize your vehicle with one of Sam’s DIY papercraft shells, or go the extra mile and build one out of Lego, which Sam’s IoT blocks nestle into nicely. (Eventually allowing for elaborate machines like this one to be constructed, although only if you graduate to the full Sam toolkit).

When Sam already sells a full-featured Lego set for the internet of things, what is the point of the more streamlined Curious Cars set, which focuses on purely vehicular mayhem? Part of it is to give kids an entry point. With the broader Sam kit, says Sam Labs founder Joachim Horn, “I felt that we were forcing users down a creative path without teaching them how the tools we were providing could be used in a really fun manner.” With Sam’s Curious Cars, kids who start programming their own RC cars can easily segue into a broader ecosystem of IoT building blocks.

But the greater goal, says Horn, is to just get kids interested in things like machine logic to begin with. “Studies have shown that what kids are playing with at five, or eight, correlate to their career choices, especially in STEM,” he says. “The thing we’re trying to figure out is how do we make play experiences into transformative experiences, that down the line benefit users and society as a whole? We think that’s to stay as much in the realm of play as possible, and focus not so much on turning kids into inventors, but having fun, and trusting the rest will happen organically.”

That’s a broad goal, of which Curious Cars is just the beginning for Sam. “We have more planned in 2017, so keep your eye out for Curious,” says Horn. For right now, though, Curious Cars can be purchased in time for Christmas for $199, and when they want to grow into designing not cars, but their own internet-controlled gadgets? The rest of Sam’s toolkit will be there.

[All Photos: Sam Lab]

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