Pai Technology’s Augie is a relative newcomer to the scene of coding robots for children, and we were very excited to try it out. The company markets Augie as the first augmented reality coding robot, and while that certainly makes things interesting, they still have work to do on it. That said, once they do get the bugs worked out, I think it will be a solid addition to the growing number of tools available to teach children how to code.
When we received Augie, my son was very excited and had the coding robot out of the box and set up in minutes. He spent a great deal of time playing with the different functions and was even able to code a few things for me quickly. I was pretty intrigued by what he was able to do, but the experience wasn’t without issues. The easiest way to explain this is that Augie was extremely glitchy. Some of the functions worked well, but the augmented reality feature left something to be desired.
For the second part of this review, I brought Augie to one of the local schools, where tech teacher Rick VanderWoude spent quite a lot of time experimenting with it in his advanced tech class. Unfortunately, his class didn’t have such an easy time getting Augie set up and running as we did. The folks at Pai had told us up front that there were some issues with the coding robot connecting to some Wi-Fi networks, and that certainly is the case. Because of how different our experiences were, it makes me wonder how much of the problems that were experienced were due to the Wi-Fi issue.
Augie connected easily at my home, but it had a difficult time with the Wi-Fi network at Highland Christian School. It took the class about 35 minutes to get Augie and running the first time. Once the robot was already connected to the Wi-Fi, it was easier to get it going the next time, but the connection was still very glitchy and often took two or three attempts to get it connected. We didn’t experience this at home on our much smaller Wi-Fi network. Mr. VanderWoude also uses other coding robots in his classes, and he found that Sphero loaded up much faster.
Augie comes with several different functions, the first one being Free Play, which allows students to program it to make different noises ranging from dinosaur or chicken sounds to missile launches, various tones, and even images for various emotions. My son was able to code the robot to do several things in a matter of minutes. He found it very simple to do, and it could be because this feature is best for younger children.
While this feature isn’t ideal for an advanced technology class full of junior high students, it is a bright spot because it means that Augie provides a foundation to start teaching students from the ground up. Free Play worked quite well and offered easy access for younger children to start learning.
The second feature is called Trailblazer, and it lets users draw a specific path for the coding robot to follow and then add any of the features that are included in the Free Play option. Both at my home and at the school, we found this feature to be rather buggy. At home, my son found that Augie tended to almost run into things when he attempted to draw a path for it to follow, but he was able to code things like this very easily:
At the school, they found that the coding robot often acted like it was about to hit something when there wasn’t anything in its path. It’s very possible that the carpet was causing problems with this, as Augie moved much more smoothly on our vinyl floor at home. They also discovered that the coding robot wasn’t very accurate in terms of following the path set by the programmer, which is the problem we had at home as well.
The third function offered by Augie is called Coding Classroom, and this is the feature that gets the highest rating from Mr. VanderWoude. It teaches students how to code using blocks in a step-by-step process, and he found it to be the most useful teaching tool on the coding robot.
The companion feature to Coding Classroom is Coding Control Center, and it’s basically a more advanced version of the first one. Students can take what they learned in Coding Classroom and code freely without restrictions. This feature also worked quite well with few glitches, so there’s hope for the rest of the bugs in the other features! Between Free Play, Coding Classroom, and Coding Control Center, I can see a solid path for children to advance through the learning process for coding. These three are the best features when it comes to actually teaching and learning.
Augie isn’t all work and no play, however. AR Adventures is an augmented-reality based game on the coding robot, and it basically involves using the connected iPad to move Augie around and blast at enemies in AR. It relies on the iPad’s camera. On our Wi-Fi network at home, this game was somewhat glitchy because Augie kept disconnecting from the iPad. Still, the glitches weren’t over the top, as it was still fun to play, and it will be even better when the bugs are worked out.
Finally, we come to the AR Coding feature, and unfortunately, the folks at Pai have a lot of work to do here. If they can fix these glitches, they will have something special here, I think. The problem is that it doesn’t seem like this feature has been bug-tested at all.
“The premise is that you have use coding blocks to make Augie move over a course only viewable from the iPad,” Mr. VanderWoude explains. “The fact that you have to drag the blocks across the screen, thus moving the iPad, disconnecting Augie, and removing both the blocks and course makes putting together the code harder than the normal coding. Finally, when you manage you to put together all the code blocks, the app glitches immensely. With the course glitching around, and pop-up messages appearing that say Augie is running into things that do not exist, this pretty drains the rest of the fun.”
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Rick VanderWoude contributed to this report. Special thanks to Mr. VanderWoude and the staff and students at Highland Christian School for trying out Augie.
Disclosure: I was given the Augie coding robot to write this review.