NEWS$show=/search/label/news

Here's where you'll find all the latest news about technology for children. We love to follow cool new inventions on Kickstarter and we hunt out all the latest announcements about tech toys and gadgets for the coming Christmas holidays. You'll also get our take on children's technology stories in the media.

REVIEWS$show=/search/label/review

Our kids technology product reviews are intended to help you work out whether a toy, gadget or kit is a good fit for your child or family. There's lots of cool stuff available, but is it the right choice for the child or teenager that you are buying for? We'll help you make the right choices and get the best value for money.

GIFT GUIDES$show=/search/label/gift%20guide

Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends assemble. We create gift lists to help you make good choices for kids technology which helps them develop the right skills for the future. We research the best in Coding Toys and Games, Making / Craft Tools and Kits, STEM/STEAM related gifts, Programmable Robots, Electronics Kits and Gadgets for Tech Age Kids and Teens.

PROJECTS$show=/search/label/project

Get crafty with technology. Here we'll post all our ideas and projects using technology to get creative and making with kids. You'll find anything from making a lemon battery to a glow-in-the-dark Minecraft sword. Our projects are tried and tested on our own kids or at events we run, so we are sure you can have a go at home with your kids. Some of our projects use specific tech gadgets which we provide links for you to purchase.

STEM$show=/search/label/stem

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. In recent years there is an increased focus in these areas of study. We like to include Art and Design too, so we often talk about STEAM (A stands for Art). At Tech Age Kids we believe Coding is a new literacy and children need to understand how technology works, practice making skills and grow in their curiosity to make a better future for us all.

CODING$show=/search/label/coding

Coding is increasingly being recognised as an important skill for children to learn. Some will learn to code at school or at a coding club, but it's brilliant if they get support at home too.

ELECTRONICS$show=/search/label/electronics

We think it's really important for kids to get hands-on with electronics and learn how to make circuits and write code to control hardware. Younger kids can start with conductive playdough. For kids who like to combine craft and tech, littleBits are fab. And we love SAM Labs wireless electronics components for making it easy for kids to make Internet of Things inventions. Lots of electronics kits for kids have support for the Arduino microprocessor environment. The DuinoKit Jr is one of our favourites. Arduino is a fab skill for older kids and teens to develop.

ROBOTICS$show=/search/label/robotics

We love robots at Tech Age Kids, especially programmable ones. We've got lots of them and write reviews and projects that use them. Our programmable robots for kids buying guide is a good place to start if you're not sure what's available. Roby the mBot Meccano robot dog is one of our popular projects and has been with us to lots of events. Our Ozobot LEGO trailer is fab for kids who love LEGO and robots.

MAKING AND CRAFT$show=/search/label/making

We're advocates of the creative use of technology, but this needs to be balanced with developing physical skills such as papercraft, woodwork, clay modelling, technical drawing and soldering. If children don't develop these skills as they grow up then physical making projects can become frustrating rather than fun. The Maker Community uses the term 'making' as a broad term to include all sorts of artisan skills or craft activities. Being able to make things can lead to life-long hobbies or even careers. It's a great feeling to be able to take a project from an idea in your head to a real object that does something. We're particularly interested to explore products that combine maker skills with tech skills such as electronics but others focus purely on the physical making skills that are still important to modern making.

Hexbug Aquabots Review and Science Project Ideas

My boys (aged 5 and 6) just got a Hexbug Aquabot each. I'm amazed how much they are playing with these toys. Aquabots are robot fish that swim around in water. You can buy them individually or with a small hexagonal tank.

In this detailed review we'll take a good look an these electronic pets and I'll suggest some ideas for science projects to do using them. These were things that came up naturally as my boys played with the toys and with a bit of parental input they've got lots out their robot fish. You could easily take things further for older kids.


The Robot Fish


The boys got the shark shaped version of these fish (there will be a clown fish version too) because they love sharks. The fish come in a range of translucent colors so you can clearly see the components inside. The boys loved this feature - you can clearly see the electronics that makes the fish work (more on that later.)

The fish are about 9cm (3.5 inches) long from the nose to the end of the tail fin.

The fish activate when put in water and will keep swimming for several minutes and then stop to save the batteries. They also stop when you take them out so we've trained the kids to take them out when they are not using them. 

They use small coin batteries which can be replaced when they run out. They are AG13 / LR44 batteries which can be bought cheaply.  You'll need a small cross-head (Philips) screwdriver to change the batteries.

Hexagonal Fish Tank


The boys each got an Aquabot with a small tank. The tank is fairly good quality plastic and comes in at the top so there's less chance of sloshing water around.

There's a plastic insert in the packaging that fits on top so you can pop the fish in for storage. Tip: Make sure it's dry or the fish will keep flapping.

The angles in the tanks encourage the fish to keep changing direction.

How Do Aquabots Work?

So how do Aquabots work? Well my 6 year old quickly discovered the sensors for detecting whether the fish is in water. He spent a while slowly lowering the fish in and out of its tank vertically to see when it started to move and when it stopped. He also found that he could trigger motion by touching the sensors (small black dots on the sides of the fish) with wet hands. We had a discussion on how it could work and you could certainly go deeper on that topic.

Then there's the movement. The kids expected that to be a motor - we've created similar motion for the tail of a wolf by attaching a rod to the shaft of a motor and having it flick the tail. The Aquabots actually use electromagnets. You can see the coils of copper wire inside. The magnets make the shaft of the tail alternately move from one side to the other creating a flapping motion.

Then there's the timer that makes the fish turn off after five minutes in water. They won't start swimming again until you take them out and put them back in.

And if you watch closely you'll notice that the fish don't swim at a constant speed. They speed up sometimes which causes them to swim down at an angle and then they float back up when they are going more slowly. (You can talk to kids about the small circuit board inside the fish containing the logic for this behavior and controlling the electromagnets.)

Can You Put Two Aquabots in One Tank?

So, could we put multiple Aquabots into a single tank together? Well the issue here is the magnets - they cause the fish to stick together. An interesting project would be to see if you can find a way to stop the fish sticking together without making them sink.

I guess this is the price we pay for being able to clearly see the insides of the shark, which is very cool. 

We found that they do not stick together when they are in adjacent tanks. We're going to see if we can come up with a solution that allows them to share a tank.

My Aquabot Just Stays on the Surface

This Aquabot Stayed at the Top of the Tank
We tried out the Aquabots in a tall container we have for pond dipping. It has a magnifying glass built into the top which makes it fun for looking at robotic fish as well as real ones.

One of our Aquabots would regularly dip down and make use of the whole height of the container. The other one just stayed at the top swimming round in circles.

Sharky explores his whole tank

Hmm. We thought. How can we fix that? We wondered if it was something to do with the angle of the tail, but couldn't see how to change that.



Then we realized that the black shark was just too bouyant (or floaty as my son
said!) We fixed that by adding a small amount of sticky tack to its belly.

First he just sank to the bottom and swam in circles down there, but by finely adjusting the amount of sticky tack we were able to get sharky (yes it's got a name) to swim at interesting angles and explore the rest of his tank. This is a fun thing to try even if your Aquabot is perfectly balanced to start with.


How Can You Make LEGO Sink?

Hexbug Shark Finds Atlantis
One of the things the boys discovered when playing with their Aquabots is that LEGO floats. This was brilliant for the LEGO minifigures divers that they have from Atantis and City sets.

But, my older son wanted to create a mini Atlantis ruin on the bottom of a tank. For this we used some empty toy packaging that was the right shape for the purpose (though a little flimsy for long-term use!)

We thought about lots of ways to try and get our ruin to stay on the bottom. Could we stick in there? We tried sticky tack but it freed itself (maybe more would have worked.) We could have glued it but wanted to be able to reuse the LEGO. We considered using Sugru to fix a small LEGO plate to the bottom but wanted an instant fix.

Could we weigh it down? We didn't manage to find anything small and heavy enough. We did consider partially covering the ruin in aquarium gravel, but the LEGO is quite bouyant.

Could we wedge it in? We tried this in the small tank and it did work, but the result wasn't very satisfactory and the LEGO took up too much space in there. 

In the end we went with magnets. We have some LEGO magnets that you can use to attach minifigures to a notice board so we attached our ruin to one of those and then we used a noticeboard magnet on the outside of our 'tank'.

This worked well through our thin tank and the magnets were well out of the way of our robot fish.

It meant that the ruin ended up at an angle which my son really liked as it looked realistic. Now it just needs partially covering with gravel.

The LEGO magnets worked through the sides of the tanks that came with the Hexbugs, but the fish were likely to get stuck by anything stuck to the side of the tank as they didn't have enough space to maneuver.

Fixing a diver to the bottom of the tank worked brilliantly though! The tank goes up in the center creating a spot to put our noticeboard magnet outside the tank.

The shark happily swims round the LEGO Atlantis diver.

Making Ripples

The kids really enjoyed tapping the sides of the tank to create ripples and change the path of their fish.

As they inevitably added far too much stuff into their tanks (any LEGO or Playmobil that was sea-themed was a candidate!) the fish started to get stuck and they would tap the tank to help them out (while talking to them of course!)

Hexbug Aquabots Review Summary

My kids are really enjoying their Aquabots. Particularly my nearly 7 year old. His Aquabot shark has fueled his Atlantis obsession and he's loving making habitats for his new electronic pet and observing its behavior.

For a fairly inexpensive toy they have got a lot from this. It's an excellent toy for the summer - my kids have spent a lot of time playing with them in a shaded area of the yard. But if you put a towel down then these are a great indoors toy too. The kids have regularly been popping over to their fish when they are playing inside.

Caveat. I can imagine some kids just putting the fish in water and watching it for a couple of minutes and then getting bored. We always find reviews of amazing museums saying that kids only spent twenty minutes there and didn't find it interesting - we'll visit the same museum and have a brilliant time. Those kids might find Aquabots boring too.

Update 

HexBug have continued bringing out more Aquabots toys since this article was originally written. 

The Harbour looks very cool and has lots of features for play and science.




Name

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Tech Age Kids | Technology for Children: Hexbug Aquabots Review and Science Project Ideas
Hexbug Aquabots Review and Science Project Ideas
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Tech Age Kids | Technology for Children
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