There’s nothing unique about loving Lego. Millions of people wax nostalgic when they see those colorful bricks. Millions more never stopped building. I’ve always been a bit in between. I like zoning out by putting stuff together so, every couple of years, I’ll buy a Lego set and build it. But then what? Put it on my shelf? Thanks to the new Lego Boost Creative Toolbox, there’s another possibility. Turning Lego creations into programmable robots makes them fun (and functional) in an amazing new way.
Lego Boost is designed for kids. With a suggested age range of seven to 12, the brick-based robots are relatively easy to build, and the tablet-based drag-and-drop coding system is as straightforward as, well, building a Lego set on a screen. The corresponding Lego Boost app is also gamified so that you have to complete simple tasks before unlocking more challenging ones. The entire concept, the company told me, is meant as a springboard for kids to get some basic training for the adult-centric Lego Mindstorms robotics system. Yet Lego Boost is fun for grown ups, too.
After following each step of the tutorials and putting bricks together, the app takes you to a coding sandbox, where you learn how to move blocks of code around and make the robot move. For instance, you begin building the Johnny Number 5 by first building his expressive face out of bricks and installing the motor. When the face is complete, you arrange the blocks of code in order to make his face move. Then, you build the arms and make those move, finally, in the third stage, you build his tank treads which let him move around the room.
All this might sound complicated, but trust me, it’s not. The Lego Boost app guides you through even the smallest steps of building a robot and the drag-and-drop code blocks couldn’t be easier to understand.
However, the need for a tablet? Sucks. It would be one thing if Lego Boost worked with smartphones, but for now, it doesn’t. Lego told me that it arrived at the tablet-only decision because of screen size. “With a tablet, the building instructions are easier to view and there is more space for exploring coding sequences,” a Lego spokesperson said in an email.
On top of that, the notion that the tutorials (read: build instructions) are only in the app makes the building process more frustrating than it needs to be. You have to tap the tablet every time you complete a step and even that simple motion gets old. You can also only see the tutorials as you build, so there’s no skipping ahead or building that pirate cat robot all at once.
Lego might hold your hand with the Boost app, but I do wonder how challenging these robots would be for a young kid. Most of the five Boost creations—the Johnny Number 5 robot, the forklift, the guitar—were easy enough to build. Building others—the cat and the automated production line thing—were frustrating at times. God knows what a seven-year-old would do after spending hours assembling the production machine thing only to find out that it can’t actually produce anything. I never got the damn thing to work properly (video below), and I spent an entire Saturday working on it.
Before completing my first build, the Johnny Number 5, it was extremely clear that one of the coolest features of the Boost set would be the ability to break away from the cookie-cutter creations and do something crazy with the pieces. As soon as I realized this novel type of Lego set could move and react to its surroundings, I started wondering how I could attach the treads to my Ecto-1 Lego set and turn it into a remote-controlled Ghostbusters car. Maybe I’d even use the sensor as an obstacle avoidance system. Maybe.
The Lego Boost system amounts to a robotics kit for beginners, whether that beginner is a grown up or a kid. While I had a great time exploring the different creations as an adult, I think the appeal for kids is tremendous. Like Lego in general, Lego Boost is essentially a toy of infinite configurations, one that includes a very exciting element: robots. If building anything you want with bricks is a three dimensional experience, Lego Boost is four dimensional with the limitless possibilities of coding and robotics offering an endless amount of fun.