In my research for my maker kids kits series, I came across a new gadget from Kano, the makers of the famous Raspberry Pi computing kit. It looked interesting so I bought one. Here are my thoughts on if it is worthwhile buying for yourself or the maker kid in your life.
So first, what is it?
What is the Kano Pixel Kit?
The idea of the Pixel is you have a box of lights that you can program and control, and in playing with it you learn programming in a fun way. I have to say, in that regard it is a success.
What it really is consists of …
- ESP-Wroom-32 based board – Yep, an ESP32. Therefore it has Dual Core 240MHz, Wifi, Bluetooth, and 16MByte Flash/520kb SRAM. No slouch
- 16×8 addressable RGB LED matrix
- Dial, buttons, joystick.
- Microphone input/sensor and noise-making ability.
- 1,550 mAh lipo battery and charging circuit.
- 3 x USB and a micro-usb (only the latter is actually used), for both power and to connect to your computer.
All of this is nice, and by following the guided projects you can have some fun.
Is it worth the $120+ to buy one? I am not convinced.
An ESP32 board and an RGB LED matrix makes for a fun gadget, but you are not buying the hardware so much as the education experience, and that experience needs some work, but there is a big problem and opportunity here too.
The Good and the Bad
- When it works, the tutorial projects are great, and everything is very friendly.
- Making colourful light displays and animations is cute and funny and pretty etc.
So what’s wrong?
In education and technology I have heard a phrase a few times that applies well to this situation.
Low floor, high ceiling.
It came up in a conversation about Littlebits earlier today where I used Arduino and Littlebits as good examples whereas right now, at this moment, I can’t see the Kano Pixel being in the good category.
What the phrase means is it is easy and accessible to get into, but the opportunities to grow and expand are unlimited. Arduino has a learning curve but the sky is the limit. The Pixel starts off easy and fun then …. stops.
And it crashes a lot.
There is definitely potential, though. Heck, if there was help documentation it might be they already solved this issue!
The lack of help and the fact it crashes a heck of a lot says to me it is not quite ready, but it could be great.
Ideas for Improving the Experience for Kano Pixel 2
- Bluetooth and iOS/Android/Chrome apps for tablets, Chromebooks, and smart devices – Kids, and education as a whole, is getting less and less PC centric and more mobile.
- Flash and reflash – This is a nice piece of maker hardware but If I overwrite the firmware can it be restored back to factory settings? Can the firmware be updated to the latest version? Are there libraries for the embedded hardware?
- More input and outputs – There are 3 USB ports with nothing to plug in? Or can you?
- IFTTT – There are some data sources such as sports and weather, but what would be really fun is to tap into IFTTT IoT abilities like Littlebits do. Have the Pixel send a tweet, receive animated gifs, or respond to you returning your home wifi.
The good part is all of these ideas are doable in the software, the hardware is already there. Not sure if they tap into the bluetooth capabilities anywhere yet.
Right now it is fun, but a lot less fun and more expensive than buying a Raspberry Pi and LED matrix, so I would wait to see where they go with this relatively new gadget.