• 03.16.17

Fun Programming Apps Should Actually Be Fun

We tried out a robot-app platform called BotsAlive–and while it’s certainly neat, I’m not so sure I’d call it fun.

Fun Programming Apps Should Actually Be Fun

“Robots with a playful artificial intelligence.” That’s the promise of BotsAlive, a recently Kickstarted robot platform that uses your iPhone camera, an infrared dongle (think TV remote), and positional markers to bring an otherwise mindless six-legged robot to life with its own evolving AI personality.


There’s just one problem: the version we tested didn’t have any actual game to it!

The Robots Are Alive! Kind Of.

So what you’re left with is ultimately a tech demo that’s impressive as heck. By leveraging your smartphone as a sort of eye-in-the-sky, the phone becomes a commander that can actually track and crunch numbers on the scene below, firing off instructions to the robot about which way to move next. And to guide the robots as the user, all you do is place “walk toward this” and “avoid this” markers in the real world. Easy!

The difficulty is that holding your phone over a physical toy is an ergonomic mess. (Should your attention be called to the screen or to the table?) And while we tested a pre-production build without all the features built in, it’s lacking the very premise of a game that would make this sharp maker project into an irresistible toy.

But don’t let our Haterade spoil the party. BotsAlive is available for pre-order now starting at $40.

UPDATE: Bots Alive CEO Brand Knox responded with the following statement, “I would also like to clarify that we are not claiming Bots Alive to be a ‘game’ or to involve ‘programming’. It’s a toy, a lifelike critter that interacts with the world kids create around it during free play, while being a fairly blank canvas on which they can project narrative, emotions, and relationships.”

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.