Review: The Finch

Programs, Reviews, The Finch

Robot Basics:

From the website,

“The Finch is a new robot for computer science education. Its design is the result of a four year study at Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE lab.

The Finch is designed to support an engaging introduction to the art of programming. It has support for over a dozen programming languages and environments, including several environments appropriate for students as young as eight years old.

The Finch was designed to allow students to write richly interactive programs. On-board features include:

  • Light, temperature, and obstacle sensors
  • Accelerometers
  • Motors
  • Buzzer
  • Full-color beak LED
  • Pen mount for drawing capability
  • Plugs into USB port – no batteries required”

What’s in the box:
The Finch robot and cord.

How much is it:
The Finch robot costs around $100.  You can find the product here: http://www.finchrobot.com/

Age Range:
This one varies.  It uses the same programming language as Scratch, so if you have kids who are familiar with MIT’s Scratch program, they could probably handle the Finch.  I would say 6th grade and up.

How did we acquire it?
ILEAD USA grant funds.

Ideas for Use
I had two Robot Test Kitchen sessions with 9 middle school kids.  I brought out our two Finch robots for the kids.  In one session, two kids worked together to figure out the Finch.  The other session had a single girl, about 12, playing with the robot.  In both cases, none of the kids had experience with Scratch or any of the other programming languages recommended to run Finch.

In both sessions, the kids had a difficult time making the Finch work.  I tried to work with them and had a frustrating time getting the Finch synced up with the laptop.  Each computer must download the software needed (it’s free software) to make the robot run.  Getting this to work was a struggle for all of us.  It took a lot of unplugging, plugging in, restarting, and patience to get the software to sync up with the Finch.  When the programming language and the robot finally worked together, it was interested for the kids to create simple commands to move the robot.

One of the other issues with the Finch is that it is not a wireless device.  The Finch robot has to be plugged into the computer at all times.  Because of this, it limits the amount of space and movements it can perform.  The kids found this to be frustrating because they wanted to include commands the Finch couldn’t fulfill due to space restrictions.

Time Involved
You do not have to do any prep for this except for downloading the free programming language you want to use to control the Finch. After that, you play for as long or as short as you want.

One Time or Recurring
I think making this a reoccurring program would be good.  It took so long to figure out that by the time the class was over, we were only able to play around for a little while.

Skills Needed
It would be good to have a knowledge of Scratch.  I did not want to prepare myself for this program because I wanted to be at the same level a new person would be at if they walked into the class.  It is not an intuitive program for those who are not code-savvy.

I would recommend that anyone who wants to lead this program play around a little with the Finch before unleashing it for the kids to use.  It requires a very specific skill set and if no one knows how to do it, it makes for a long class.

Good Stuff
Honestly, I do not have a lot of great things to say about the Finch Robot.   I saw two young middle school boys who read through the directions and tried several problem solving techniqures to make the robot work.  They were able to work well together and that was a positive outcome.

Bad Stuff
I did not care for this product.  Perhaps it was me.  I am not super excited by computer programming or these types of robotics.  It would be better to do this program with kids who are familiar with programming language and are willing to take the time to solve problems.

Overall Rating
Not for a beginner.  I’d say one an a half thumbs down.  The other half a thumb might just be for my lack of experience and patience.  It is worth trying if you know Scratch.

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