MOSS Zombonitron 1600 is a simple and modular robot construction kit from Modular Robotics. The 56 steel spheres can connect the 16 MOSS blocks into numerous variations, allowing for imaginative, creative building. The Zombonitron 1600 is the basic kit, including a battery block, two motors, two wheels, braces, corners, a long flexible connector, and two sensors (proximity and brightness). The Exofabulatronixx 5200 is set for release this summer, and its 52 blocks will include extra sensors (the original sensors, plus more for distance and sound), a flashlight, and a “double brain” block to allow robots to connect to mobile devices using Bluetooth. The Bluetooth-enabled MOSS robots are supported by mobile apps which enables remote control, sketching using the robots’ movements, and harvesting data from the sensor blocks so the robot can act as an environmental sensor. The kits are also supported by lesson plans and activities, provided for free by under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, which are designed to integrate robotics into STEM lessons.
The guide provides assembly directions for two different creatures – one is a robotic mouse which uses the proximity sensor to quickly scoot away from you if you get too close – and also explains why they are able to move. The power, data in, data out, and pass through block faces are color-coded, enabling children to quickly learn how to connect the blocks to invent their own robots. No programming knowledge is required: the robots use sensors to react to their environment. The kit (rated 8+) is simple enough for children but not boring; for anyone looking for more a challenge, the company plans to release two other MOSS models to allow for reprogramming and modification of the blocks.
Once built, the robots themselves are hard to pick up or carry around without coming apart, and the steel spheres are quick to scatter and easy to lose. (Especially compared to Modular Robotic’s Cubelets system, MOSS requires more delicate handling.) The main downside, however, is that blocks are not currently sold individually, so there is no way to expand a kit. The smaller kits don’t come with the brain block – a key feature which greatly expands creative play.
The MOSS robotic systems kits are still very new, so some of the drawbacks (such as not being able to purchase individual blocks) may yet change – given the modular nature of construction, perhaps expansion packs are a future possibility. The steel spheres, while sometimes frustrating, also provide a level of complexity and kinematic potential that simpler toys like Cubelets do not. The Zombonitron 1600 allows kids to start exploring robotics without wiring, programming, or soldering and is a good introduction to design and engineering.