Dash & Dot are pretty fundamentally adorable. But more to the point, they have sensors and can be programmed using Blockly, and that makes them proper robots in my view. They can also be programmed by younger kids and have an open API that lets older students, and even adults, really take control. In a nice touch you can also get a connector that allows you to add LEGO bricks into the mix. This is a really nice combination of great industrial design combined with the potential for real creativity.
Starting at US$200 this isn’t a cheap option, but if it lives up to its advertising it has amazing potential, particularly in engaging younger kids and then transitioning them to more complex programming. All the spherical details are on their website.
Nübi is only a prototype at this stage, but gives an interesting insight into an approach to teaching programming to younger kids. According to Gizmodo, Nübi was named one of the winners of the DevelopHer challenge, a design competition for toys “focused on girls ages 3-12 in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).” The interesting thing about Nübi is the use of physical objects embedded with RFID chips to create simple programs or recipes.
The iRobot Create 2 is at entirely the other end of the scale: It’s for older students. Create 2 is based on the Roomba vacuum cleaner, but doesn’t come with cleaning equipment. Rather you have the chassis and lots of space to add on your own awesomeness. The Create 2 comes with a programming framework and instructions for 3D-printing accessories, but it’s really designed as a platform for the addition of an Arduino, Raspberry Pi or the like and as much creativity as you can imagine: It is a platform for hacking.
The iRobot Create 2 costs US$199. For all the details on a device that definitely does not suck, see their website.