LEGO Boost #17101 is the newest robotics set produced by LEGO. This product, unlike the LEGO WeDo series created for educational purposes, was designed for individual customers – children and their parents. RoboCAMP team decided to check how far the differences go.
Generally, user reviews are rather disapproving. This is quite surprising, because the set was based on LEGO WeDo 2.0, which is generally well-liked. Therefore, although the product wasn’t designed strictly for educational purposes, we decided to test it out for you. Interestingly, the testing process involved some unforeseen adventures. First, we received a set without several parts, so we had to wait for another LEGO package. Then, the dedicated app simply refused to work with any of our tablets. Fortunately, several system updates later, we managed to run LEGO Boost app on Windows 10 laptop computer and finally, test the product. What’s inside the set? What are its advantages and weaknesses? Is it only for home-use, or can you introduce it to the classroom? Can Boost compete with WeDo? How does it compare? In this article, we try to answer these questions and many others.
LEGO Boost set is recommended for children 7 to 12 years old. You also need a tablet to run the app. Since November, several devices with Windows 10 OS can also be used. There are no paper instructions inside the box. According to the picture guide on the box, one must download and install the LEGO Boost app in order to fully make use of the set. The app provides several robot building instructions and, of course, programming software with tasks to complete. Besides the bricks, physical contents include a cardboard mat for testing, which you can use when playing with robots. Actually, several tasks in the app strongly suggest you do. The back of the mat provides a long, but not exactly readable, list of elements.
The packaging is a one-off cardboard box. Inside, there’s over a dozen plastic bags with construction bricks and electronic elements. This box choice is quite characteristic of LEGO. Since this set is intended for playing at home, the producer expects the user won’t store it in the original box. While this logic is understandable when it comes to the traditional sets (in the end, all bricks end up in one container), a robotics set, with unique electronic and construction parts, should be kept separate. Whether you plan to use it at home, or at school, the character of this set requires purchasing additional storage box. The elements will be kept safe, the building process will be easier and you will even be able to sort the bricks.
The set comes with an impressive amount of 847 bricks. Once you compare it to LEGO WeDo 2.0, with only 280 parts, this number becomes even more amazing. In truth, Boost contains considerably more elements than sets for older kids, such as LEGO Mindstorms EV3, be it in Home edition (601 bricks), or in Education edition (541 bricks). However, as soon as you start working with the set, this outrageous number of parts becomes a problem. The search for one particular element can be tiresome and frustrating, especially in the absence of any storage box, or sorting system.
Bricks are greatly diverse – the set includes 214 different kinds of elements. You can find classic bricks and plates, but also elements introduced in the Technic series: beams, pins, axles, or cogwheels. Those looking for unusual parts will be interested by angle connectors, steering links, turntables and arrow shooter. Many elements have purely decorative use, such as curved bricks and slopes of numerous kinds and colors. They help with adding final touches to the constructions, but do little more. Decorative aspect limits their use. You won’t be able to use them for devising any interesting mechanism and their accumulation obstructs efficient work with the set. Also, the set has many bizarre parts, the purpose of which isn’t clear at first glance; it may be even harder to figure out for young children, for whom the set was created in the first place. These special elements were included, because they are needed in particular models designed by LEGO. However, using them creatively, beyond their intended purpose, won’t be easy. This amassment of complex bricks might, contrary to its initial objective, discourage children from building and experimenting on their own. Besides, a lot of space is taken by odds and ends – tiny parts that are hard to find, but easy to lose. This category includes pins, half-pins, bricks and plates 1×1, as well as small decorative elements. Although there’s a lot of them, they’re quite small, so the volume of the entire set is not huge. If compared, all elements of the Boost set take up more or less the same amount of space as Mindstorms EV3, which include significantly less bricks. Therefore, although Boost has more elements, they are tinier and more tightly packed together, which makes finding one particular brick more challenging.
Colors of the set are truly rich. Although black, blue, orange and white are the dominant colors, the set includes bricks in almost all colors ever produced by LEGO. The abundance of colors is a great idea, especially in a set for bolstering creativity, but the producer might have gone a bit too far. For example, there are several shades of the same color (e.g. 3 similar blue hues and 2 yellow ones). Ultimately, these small differences strip the integrity of the set and seem like a haphazard, awkward choice in constructions. Also, numerous elements are available in several color versions, which, again, complicates finding the right part. A similar effect is produced when dealing with many black elements (as known from Mindstorms EV3 Home version). Consequently, retrieving the desired element is in no way facilitated by the producer. Actually, on the contrary – many parts in similar shapes are also of the same color, so users are bound to encounter problems with finding bricks, especially younger children.
It seems as if the Boost set is a heap of bricks, out of which LEGO team succesfully managed to design 5 good-looking robots. Disassembled elements were put into a box and branded “a robotics set”. Finding any deeper thought pattern behind the selection of elements, be it in terms of content, or colors, proved somewhat inconceivable for us.
The three electronic elements of the set are based on the technology known from WeDo 2.0, but they underwent certain modifications. All of them come across as being slightly coarse with keen edges.
In reality, the Boost Hub is several electronic elements in one package. This undeniably big and angular element incorporates two motors with in-built rotation sensors, a microprocessor, a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) module, a tilt sensor, a diode, 2 ports for connecting other electronic elements and a pocket for 6 AAA batteries. To activate it all, you just press one button. Despite being three times larger than the WeDo 2.0 Smarthub, the Move Hub allows to create more advanced constructions, mainly thanks to two additional motors. You can easily build driving or walking robots with it, and use the remaining motor for powering additional functions of the construction. Rotation sensors improve interaction with the robot. Ports in Move Hub are compatible with WeDo 2.0.
Besides its humongous size, the most disappointing aspect of the new Move Hub concerns its power system. Unlike all other LEGO sets that rely on AA batteries, the Move Hub is powered by AAA batteries, therefore forcing you to purchase new ones. What’s more, the pocket cover is affixed with a screw, so you need to use a screwdriver in order to change the batteries. Although it’s not a problem whilst playing at home, this solution might become burdensome in class, where you’re bound to use the set often and change batteries more frequently.
Unfortunately, the producer didn’t go back to USB technology, which was present in WeDo 1.0 sets. In this case, it would have solved many equipment problems. Simply by adding one USB socket to the Move Hub (not a big change, its size considered), it would be possible to use the set with many other devices. And yes, it would mean losing a part of mobility, but surely, people who use older devices would appreciate this solution.
The Boost motor differs from the one in WeDo 2.0 not only in shape. Interactive Motor has an in-built rotation sensor, which allows to check how much, or how fast the motor turned. This feature can be used in many interesting tasks, while building various control or regulation levers, or even as an additional layer of robot interaction.
Color & Distance Sensor
The sensor included in the set is also a compound element. It can be a distance sensor, a color sensor, or it can act as an additional diode. The multitude of its possible functions explains its size and slightly curious shape.
To play with Boost, you need a compatible tablet (or laptop) and the set itself. Compatibility issues are the main problem for the majority of users. The list of all devices that seamlessly work with Boost is short and limited to the newest and the most expensive solutions. Before you purchase the set, you should definitely check whether its compatible with your device. On the producer’s website you can find the detailed list of requirements and tested devices. Be wary that requirements for tablets are quite strict: the app works on new devices with iOS version 10.3 or newer, and Android version 5.0 or newer (some additional requirements must be met in this case). Since several weeks, the app also supports some devices with Windows 10 OS. It’s fortunate, because it’s the only reason why we managed to install and run the app on the laptop.
Besides the mentioned requirements, you should also pay attention to the Bluetooth technology type your device uses. To connect with the Move Hub, either the device must rely on Bluetooth Low Energy 4.1 (or newer), or you must be able to plug in an outer BLE module (in our case, Bluegiga BLED112 used with WeDo 2.0 succeeded here as well). If you lack the correct Bluetooth module, the app may seem to work (you can install and run it, sometimes even connect to the device), but you won’t be able to control the Move Hub. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t inform you about it straight away. During our tests, the problem appeared only after updating the Move Hub firmware; fortunately, connecting the outer Bluetooth module solved it once for all.
Before trying to connect through the app, you must pair up the electronic elements in the Bluetooth settings of your tablet/laptop. Depending on where the device is installed, you may encounter another issue. Many devices require a PIN code, which is nowhere to be found. In our case, the default 0000 worked. When you run the app for the first time, it will go straight to searching for Move Hub – unless it connects, you won’t be able to do anything. Only afterwards you can browse instructions and other options. Also, the app may ask you to update firmware of Move Hub the first time you start it. Depending on your CPU, it could last even 15 minutes. Once everything is updated correctly, you can start working with the set.
When starting to work with Boost, it’s best to go straight to the introductory project. It allows you to check the connection and functionality of all electronic elements. Completing it takes around 20 minutes. You build a simple vehicle with a fan and a sensor, then get introduced to programming a mobile base, the distance sensor and the motor.
Afterwards, you can select one of five extensive projects prepared by LEGO: a humanoid robot with caterpillar track (Vernie The Robot), a robotic cat (Frankie The Cat), an electric guitar controlled with distance sensor (Guitar4000), a manufacturing plant of mini-robots (AutoBuilder), or a multitasking vehicle (M.T.R.4).
Every model comes with a detailed building instruction divided into three parts. Instructions also include short tests, to check whether the construction is being built correctly. These instructions are good in general, but some parts, especially large shots of the model, aren’t legible enough. There are no indications about how long the beam should be (counting studs is not the most time-saving method…), or how the element should look before and after. Including such an option in an interactive app is very easy and helps enormously – which is why it’s available in RoboCAMP instructions. Since LEGO decided not to print instructions for Boost, they could have provided this solution. As soon as you complete the building stage, new free programming activities for the model become available. Every time you complete an activity, more available instructions appear.
To test out these materials, we built and programmed 2 models out of 5 available in the app.
Vernie is a neat robot that moves around on a caterpillar track and can tilt its head. A clever mechanism responsible for brow movement gives him a bit of character. The adventure with Vernie starts with building. The process is divided into 3 parts. In the first one (156 slides), you create Vernie’s torso and test the primary functions: head movement and driving forward. After the test, the robot comes to a conclusion that it lacks tracks and encourages you to work further. In the second stage (117 slides), you create caterpillar tracks and test out its driving capabilities. Vernie is pleased with this outcome and wants to give you a high five, but… it has no hands. This is the introduction to the last, third building stage (62 slides). You create Vernie’s hands and test vocal interactions.
The entire building process, all tests included, took us 3 full hours. It was tedious and difficult, especially in the beginning, when almost all elements were still in the box. The “test” pauses are very reasonable in this context, because not only they provide a welcome break from the frustrating brick search, but also help with noticing (and correcting) building mistakes, which is crucial with such complex models. Moreover, these tests allow children to “get to know” the robot earlier on, therefore encouraging them not to abandon the project.
When the robot is built, you gain access to the programming panel with basic blocks you discovered while testing Vernie and to additional activities grouped into 4 categories. All activities consist of rewriting the code from the instruction into the programming panel. Every completed activity extends the blocks palette available in the programming panel.
Some activities for the robot require building additional accessories, such as weapon and mustache for Vernie-cowboy, or bowtie and microphone for Vernie-comedian. Thus equipped, the robot can be programmed to shoot, tell jokes, play hokey, or avoid obstacles on its way. When all activities from the first three groups (shooting, scene, sport) are completed, the last group with the most advanced activities becomes available. It involves creating subroutines, programming the tilt sensor and the color sensor.
AutoBuilder is a manufacturing plant of mini-robots. Its main part consists of the conveyor, which moves the pallet with parts. There’s also the grapple that holds a brick and places it on top of others.
Like previously, the building process is divided into three stages. At first (144 slides), you create the conveyor and test out its motion. Next (83 slides), you put together the grapple and check its movements. In the last stage (132 slides), you add final touches by placing decorative bricks and additions. At this point, you can also test whether your factory can really create a figure out of bricks.
Building this model took us almost 2 hours. Less than previously, but it could be due to the fact that this time, we shoved all bricks onto the table. This “solution” simplified finding particular elements.
This robot has only one activity that becomes available at the end of the building process. It involves learning various methods of controlling the construction: through randomizing, creating subroutines, remote control (a remote appears on the screen), by issuing vocal commands, or with the help of color sensor.
Obviously, five constructions do not exhaust the possibilities of this set. Although the contents do not encourage individual experiments and most efforts will look bland in comparison to the complex and pretty LEGO constructions, some children will surely examine the set on their own. For this end, LEGO prepared two instructions for mobile bases: a walking base and a vehicle one. They can be used in individual projects. The app can also be used for individual programming. Note this mode contains a full palette of programming blocks – unlike the advertised LEGO robots.
Programming resembles the system known from WeDo 2.0 software. There is a palette of blocks, which you assemble in the programming area by using the drag and drop method. However, most of the blocks are different. What’s more, there are some controversies in this area. You see, it’s hard to define the contents of the blocks palette, for there seem to be several palettes.
As it was already mentioned, playing with every robot expands its programming palette. However, these blocks are not classic programming blocks. Besides instructions such as start, sending and receiving, loops, motor and sensor blocks, there are instructions activating “cowboy walk”, “hokey shot”, “boxer move”, “beatbox”, etc. These blocks work only with Vernie and are available only when programming this particular robot. In case of the AutoBuild factory, blocks differ; they are focused on the movement of the conveyor, the grapple, or collecting bricks. We assume this approach is repeated in all five constructions.
Therefore, the app offers 5 different block palettes that contain ready-made subroutines dedicated for every construction designed by LEGO. Building and playing with these models mainly shows how to use these additional, compound blocks. Since they are actually subroutines, they allow users to quickly create an interesting program. Without them, writing a program for such a construction like AutoBuild would be a big challenge. Unfortunately, coding by relying on subroutines prepared beforehand has a much lower educational value. It’s a more sophisticated method for controlling a toy with algorithmic elements, rather than honest learning how to program a robot.
After you finish having fun with 5 models prepared by the producer, you are left alone with an advanced blocks palette that you know little of. This palette could truly be educational, but again, the multitude of available blocks could hinder children, who try to create their own projects from scratch. Below you can find a comparison between the blocks palette of Vernie, AutoBuild and the full one.
The final, advanced palette is much more extensive than the one available with LEGO WeDo 2.0. With Boost, there’s more electronics to program, so it’s not that surprising. The curious thing is exactly the same age recommendation for these both sets. Boost, especially when using the advanced blocks palette (which means going beyond the 5 staple robots), is way more difficult to program. Remember that there is no description of the blocks (even their names!) provided with the set. You must figure out their function on your own, by contemplating their icons and testing everything out. Quite a frustrating method of learning how to code.
CONCLUSIONS AND COMPARISON TO LEGO WEDO 2.0
Both LEGO Boost and LEGO Education WeDo 2.0 are robotics sets recommended for children above 7 years old. Therefore, the target group is similar. If you’re wondering which set to choose, this part is for you.
Electronics have pros and cons in either set. In WeDo, elements are smaller, easier to fit into constructions, their design is ironed out and the manufacturing is more precise. The issue of power supply is resolved better here. However, Boost has more possibilities. Three motors, built-in rotation sensors and three additional sensors (distance, color and tilt) allow to create very interesting robots. The use of BLE technology causes some problems in both sets, especially when it comes to connecting with the control device. WeDo has been present on the market for quite some time, so many of its issues are already resolved. This set has also become compatible with more devices (Windows 7/8/10, Mac OS X, selected tablets with iOS and Android, Chromebooks, etc.). Nonetheless, the first try to connect is often a challenge with both sets.
Materials prepared for both sets are interesting and well presented, but completely different in purpose. Constructions proposed by LEGO WeDo 2.0 are simple models that can be put together fast, designed for education. They show interesting mechanisms and concepts and can be completed in 2 lesson hours. Moreover, WeDo offers support and materials for teachers. Boost constructions are cool toys; they can be programmed, but their main focus is nice appearance and fun playtime. Time needed for building and completing dedicated activities fits nowhere in school environment. Also, producer offers no additional materials.
When it comes to programming, WeDo has an advantage; it wins with simplicity and comprehensibility. The programming app has one blocks palette with a great educational value. On the Boost side, the app is overloaded; the idea of pre-prepared subroutines helps in playing, but interferes with learning how to program. What’s more, understanding how a multitude of various blocks work without any help, instruction or even names, is very difficult.
Many mentioned arguments clearly indicate that LEGO Boost isn’t thought out as well as LEGO WeDo 2.0. Branding it an educational tool is baffling, because almost all qualities of the set impede learning how to code, be it at school, or at home. Our opinions are summarized in the table comparing both sets. A point was awarded to the set that has significant advantage over the other in a given category. If sets are comparable in a category, the amount of points is the same. As you can see, since there is no box with any storing or sorting capabilities, too many construction elements, too much confusion and difficult programming, Boost loses in almost every category.
Nonetheless, Boost is a great educational toy. If you match it with a compatible tablet or laptop, this set will surely provide kids with many hours of fun – individually, or with a parent. Advanced electronics and interesting, interactive robots constitute the best parts of this set. But if you’re looking for a higher educational quality, a simple and efficient introduction to robotics and programming, or if you’re planning to conduct classes with a robotics set, we highly recommend choosing LEGO WeDo 2.0. For more information about it, read our review.