Robot Factory by TinyBop is a ‘digital toy,’ as its creators call it, that lets children piece together robots choosing from a vast array of bodies, arms, legs and other robotic miscellany. Robot Factory – which has been out for less than a month – boasts of more than 1 million robots created by young children since its launch.
TinyBop’s app was created to stimulate the creativity and imagination of young children aged 4 to 9, according to TinyBop’s CEO Raul Gutierrez. The app, which is available for iOS, lets children create their robots and then test them out in the app’s own side-scrolling simulator. A robot can move, jump and avoid obstacles in a way a human would. Some robots fail other succeed. The user has the opportunity to refine a robot design to make it more efficient.
Unlike Legos and similar toys that may narrow the creativity potential of children, Gutierrez says Robot Factory offers more freedom:
“With The Robot Factory, kids can build their own unique robots and bring them to life. There are few rules.”
In an email conversation with Technical.ly, Guiterez explains how Robot Factory is like no other digital toy in the way that it encourages open-ended creative play:
“Kids can add a single head, ten heads, or no heads. They can put arms on legs or vice versa, and then they can test them in a world. The app was designed for tinkering. The cool and tricky engineering bit is taking the kids’ creations and making them move with realistic physics.”
Wired’s Kyle Vanhemert argues that more apps like Robot Factory are needed. As he says, Robot Factory is designed to nurture children’s imaginations:
“Robot Factory is built entirely around that play pattern. There’s no agenda. There are no levels. There’s no story and no real point system. It’s more like a set of digital Tinker Toys, just focused on the world of robots.
A child can pick bits and body parts to create a robot they way they want. If a child wishes, she can create a robot with an exoskeleton, five arms and no legs. The user has at her disposal several part categories, bodies, heads, arms and legs as well as more mechanical parts like antennas, claws and brains in jars. Each part has its unique physics and specifications that make the robot respond differently during the test phase.
The user can create a collection of robots and choose which one to take out of the showroom to play with. Robot Factory lets its users create unique sounds for their robots, too, to make them even more personal.
TinyBop’s CEO believes Robot Factory is a “meaty engineering challenge” because the user has to test out their creation and through its success or failure to overcome obstacles gain an understanding of the physics at play.
This is one way Robot Factory is different from similar robot-building apps. Guiterrez says the user is given more control over the result, a fact that nurtures children’s creativity, imagination and willingness to experiment more:
“[T]here’s a real feeling that you’re driving the action, and a sense that you could very well build something the app’s creators had never imagined possible themselves,” he says.
Robot Factory was illustrated by British artist Owen Davey.