Monday, 5 October 2015

The BigTrak Programmable Robot is Still Fantastic!

BigTrak is a chunky programmable floor robot with shooting sound effects and an optional rocket launcher accessory. Well, technically its optional. You have to get it if you have a BigTrak and kids, they insist.

The original BigTrak was popular when I was a child. I didn't have one then but I've made up for it now! An updated (but faithful) BigTrak was released a few years ago and we got one. It comes out regularly, especially when the kids have friends around.

We've also got a BigTrak Jr which has the same programmability but in a smaller package.

BigTrak isn't a recent toy, even the newly released version, but we still think it's a lot of fun and they are still available to buy.

What is BigTrak?

BigTrak is an approximately 35cm long tank which can be programmed using its built in keypad.

Kids can program it from the keypad to navigate courses around a room using motion and direction commands.

There's no setup involved. Just make sure it has got batteries, turn it on and off you go. You can choose between hard floor and carpet settings.

BigTrak looks a big like a Moon Rover and has a fun blast effect as well as movement.

BigTrak Jr

I've just acquired a BigTrak Jr so we've got an additional BigTrak for Cubs and similar events.

The Junior version is a great choice if you have limited storage and play space. It has a scaled down version of the keypad but the same set of commands.

The Junior version also comes with a set of moon craters that can be used as obstacles to navigate around. The BigTrak definitely looks a lot like a Moon Rover so this works well.

Like its big brother the junior version also has an accessory port.

The rocket launcher accessory is  compatible with BigTrak Jr, it just looks huge! Note that the rocket launcher is a separate add-on that you buy separately.

Programming BigTrak

BigTrak can store up to 16 commands.

It moves in units that correspond to its length and it uses minutes (as in minutes on a clock) to specify angles so 90 degrees is 15 minutes.

You can program in a series of commands. This can be done incrementally so you can get the first part right and then add more commands.

There's also a blast effect that can be included in programs with a cool retro sound - this is always popular.

Rocket Launcher

Two BigTraks are even more fun than just one. Especially when they both have rocket launchers!
You can get a rocket launcher add-on that can be programmed to fire real foam darts. Note that the rocket launcher is sold separately. There's a command button on the keypad which is used in a program to trigger the accessory port and fire a dart. You can fire 4 darts before you need to reload.

You need to put batteries in the rocket launcher and turn it on separately. This feature works really well.

Is it Programming?

Is BigTrak programming? Well it's certainly good for teaching basic programming in a fun and very hands-on way. Definitely a good introduction, but there's only so far you can go with a small set of commands and a limited number of instructions. That can be an advantage though. Kids can learn some basic skills thoroughly and while having lots of fun. 

BigTrak is perfect for situations where you want to introduce a bit of coding in a really engaging way. Some schools have even used BigTrak as part of their curriculum due to its affordability and kid-appeal. 

For educational settings it's worth checking out the Probot, an educational car-shaped floor robot which is designed for educational use. It is a lot more expensive but does have more functionality that is targeted to a school environment.

BigTrak is fantastic for fun kids coding events and birthday parties. We're taking ours along to help our local cubs earn their Digital Maker badges. It's also a great ice-breaker when children have friends around to play - it gets them up and playing instead of just wanting to use screens all of the time.

BigTrak on eBay

You might be able to find a used BigTrak or BigTrak Jr, or even an original BigTrak on eBay. The original US model was gray whereas the UK model was white like the new models.

BigTrak Rover

BigTrak Rover is another toy from a few years ago that uses a smartphone to stream video. BigTrak Rover can be controlled from an app. It's just not as cool as a proper BigTrak.

BigTrak XTR

BigTrak XTR is an updated modern BigTrak with extra features. It was supposed to be released after the BigTrak Rover but hasn't appeared yet.


At the recent Brighton Maker Faire we got to meet BigHak, a scaled up replica of BigTrak from Hitchen Hackspace with a mobile app! My boys loved this. What a cool thing to make.

Review Summary

BigTrak is a great toy to have around in a modern household. It's a lot of fun and will appeal to kids who might not be keen to sit down and a computer and learn to code.

Once they've learnt the basics kids will be able to play independently and there's no set up required. It's also a great toy for dragging kids away from a computer screen or tablet. 

We're definitely fans of BigTrak whichever version you can get hold of.

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