Koov has a lot in common with Lego Mindstorms: Both are building sets that revolve around taking a core processing unit and attaching motors, sensors and unconnected colored blocks to it, with the assembled robot programmed via an app. But Koov blocks are more cubelike, as each piece is designed around sets of four boxes reminiscent of Tetris. The proprietary design isn't just about being different, however. It means there are fewer pieces to manufacture, and it makes it easier for users to envision an idea as pixel art.
Those are just the standard "dumb" blocks, however. The core unit, motors and battery are solid white to stand out and shaped to accommodate their switches and ports. One thoughtful touch Sony added was the ability to separate the core processor and the battery pack. This means users don't always have to design their projects around a huge central unit.
Budding programmers can choose the starter kit, which gives kids some basic lights and sensors to use. Or they can get the advanced set, which steps things up a bit by adding gears, wheels and an accelerometer to the mix. All the pieces click together through pegs and holes placed at various spots on the blocks, which are a bit difficult to pull apart. No worries, though: Sony included a block separator.
While well designed, on a hardware level there's nothing particularly unique here. STEM products like littleBits' new Code Kit also give kids basic colorful components to put together simple games or robots. But those sets are also happy to just let users jump in, essentially saying, "Here are some pieces, here are a few examples of what you could do, now build something." That's fine for more-adventurous types, but what about aspiring builders who may feel intimidated by the amount of options and the learning curve?
The Koov app for iPad, Windows and Mac takes a slower, more measured approach. Instead of asking users to hop in, it takes small steps -- the first mission is actually called "What is coding?" And while this may be frustrating to kids itching to just build something, Sony wants Koov users to be cognizant of every step of the process. The instructions for each project include short animations showing where pieces go, and the 3D models can be rotated for a better look at how they're put together. Subsequent lessons walk users through how to use the motors, how to program lights and even how to properly balance their robots so they don't topple over.