LAS VEGAS — Forget high-speed cameras and complicated smartphone apps: The latest tech is all about childlike simplicity. And that's for a good reason. Many of the products that are making their mark at CES 2016 aren't for tech-savvy adults; they're for kids.
While high-tech gadgetry still has a place in the consumer technology world, some of the coolest products here at the annual consumer electronics show are designed for the elementary school set. Adorable robots with sweet bulging eyes and flickering lights welcome you around every corner. Colorful tablets with crayonlike styluses sit right next to Samsung's latest mobile devices.
All of these tech toys are meant to promote learning and, more specifically, an interest in the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — according to the companies that manufacture them. Even well-known brands like Lego and Fisher-Price have come up with STEM-inspired electronics for grade-school students. Here are some of the coolest kid-friendly technologies we've seen so far at CES. [Check out CES 2016 coverage on our sister site, Tom's Guide]
Lego's "Mini Milo"
Lego Education, a division of the Danish toy company, unveiled a boxy little robot at CES that kids build and program themselves. Equipped with a tiny motor and a motion-sensing detector, Lego's "Mini Milo" bot is controlled wirelessly with a smartphone or tablet. Kids can use the bot to complete a variety of science-related projects, such as figuring out how to pull a virtual rock out of the robot's path (hooray for physics!). The robot, which is designed for classroom use, can be purchased from the Lego Education store (opens in new tab). The basic model (just one bot and the software needed to control it) sells for about $160.
Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar
Building a robot is a tall order for little kids, but fear not: Fisher-Price has a new tech toy that even the youngest budding programmer can construct. The company's flashy Code-a-Pillar robot is composed of multiple electronic segments that snap together to form a mobile robot. Each segment is programmed to perform a different action — one tells the toy to turn to the right, for example, while another tells it to light up or sing a song. Kids can scramble the segments however they want to make the bot do different things. Fisher-Price's adorable new bot will be available in June and is expected to retail for $50.
Boogie Board e-writers
Remember that black Crayola scratch paper you loved as a kid? The kind you drew on with a wooden stick to reveal a rainbow of colors just beneath the surface? This next product is kind of like that, only way more high-tech. The new Jot 4.5 and Scribble N' Play e-writers from Boogie Board have liquid crystal display (LCD) screens that kids draw on with electronic pens. The screen on the Scribble N' Play is multicolored, and when you draw on it with the electronic pen (which looks like a plastic crayon), the effect is wonderfully colorful. The Jot 4.5 has a translucent screen, which makes it the perfect surface to practice tracing numbers and letters (a set of appropriately sized ABC and 123 flash cards comes with the e-writer). Both products are due out in July. The Jot 4.5 will retail for $20 and the Scribble N' Play will sell for $30. [The Best Educational Gift Ideas for Kids]
Makeblock robot kit
Tech geeks, you may want to sit down for this one. Makeblock, an open-source robot construction platform, sells a robot starter kit for kids that retails for just $75 — here's one of their robot kits on Amazon (opens in new tab). The build-it-yourself bot is made of sturdy aluminum parts and can be put together in less than 10 minutes. Kids can program the robot to light up and move around using open-source software like Arduino or Raspberry Pi, and the bot can connect to a mobile device via Bluetooth so engineers-in-training can control the toy's movements with an app. The company also sells more advanced (but still easy-to-build) kits for kids of all ages, including an aluminum-frame 3D printer that sells for about $800.
New Matter 3D printer
If you want your kids to play around with a 3D printer, but building one yourself doesn't appeal to you, there is another option. New Matter just unveiled its MOD-t 3D printer at CES. The oh-so-attractive printer (its minimalist design won't clash with your dining room décor) connects directly to the New Matter online marketplace, where you can download designs to 3D print. That means kids don't need to understand 3D-modeling software to use the printer. However, uploading and printing original designs is also an option. The machine prints in ecofriendly plastic and retails for $399. The company is working with educators to bring its affordable printer to classrooms around the United States. (Educators can visit the company's website for more information on how to score free MOD-t printers for their schools.)