When I was my daughter's age (gosh do I sound old already) I had a programmable robot. It had two actuated wheels, a wobbly wheel, and 16 keys. 9 keys were numbers from 1 to 9, the other keys were "action keys" like forward, backwards, left turn, right turn, go.

You would typically play by first typing in a program, then letting it execute the program. For example, you pressed: forward, 7, right turn 3, sound, 3, back 3, left turn, 3, go. Then, the robot went forward 3 feet(-ish), turn right 90°, make a sound for 3 seconds ... You got the gist. Anyway, the main point is that you had a clear programming step and a clear execution step.

Unfortunately, when I search for "STEM robot" or "toy robot" or the like, I either get a remote controlled robot or a pre-programmed (e.g. follow the line) one.

Can anyone help me find a robot with a clear programming and a clear execution step? I'd rather have a "dump" programmable robot, i.e., no fancy "download this app" or "connect to WiFi". I want 100% education, 100% stalking.

  • 1
    I'm not sure it's still a thing (hence the comment), but a few years ago Fisher-Price launched "Code-a-pillar", a caterpillar whose body was comprised of detachable parts, and each part represented an action (like move, turn, sound, etcétera); you could assemble the body however you wanted, and the caterpillar would perform those actions in order
    – Josh Part
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 20:05
  • Nowadays you can do whatever you want with a raspberry PI! You can make it look like a toy if you want with different cases. It is trully modifiable.
    – S. Dre
    Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 6:41
  • If you had a programmable robot when you were a child, you don't sound so old to me. OTOH, you're making me feel old.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 16:20
  • 1
    Should that be 100% education, 0% stalking?
    – bdsl
    Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 23:56

9 Answers 9


I don't know how old your daughter is, but we have recently bought this programmable robot toy for a 4 yo:

Andy from Xtrem Bots (YouTube ad)

It is pretty simple but for a toddler seemed interesting enough. And yes, you program a move sequence first, and then press a button for its execution. The toy seems available on Amazon and in some other online stores.


I want to mention the Lego Mindstorms NXT. The official age is 10+, but with all the flexibility it offers (it even has an own programming language), it can be a challenge even for fully grown-up engineers.

One of my favourite creations I have seen is this segway built using two motors and a gyro sensor.


  • There is also the FIRST Lego League for ages 9-14 Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 0:59
  • @fyrepenguin Ah, FLL. Great competition, but a pretty large time commitment. Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 0:24

Try Big Trak. This is a rereleased version of a toy that was very popular in the 1980's(!). Here is the original TV advert to give you an idea what to expect.

Summary: A toy vehicle that you can program with movement commands through a simple interface on the chassis.

  • This seems exactly like what OP is describing - down to the keypad and everything.
    – J...
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 16:06

I have a Cubetto for my daughter - we got it when she was 3 or 4 but my eldest son played with it most until she was 5 or 6. All three of my kids love it and I can set challenges for each of them to complete based on their skill level. They like playing with recursion particularly :)



You could probably get into some kid friendly raspberry PI projects. Something like getting PI to automate a chicken incubator. Have a little coup where you house the eggs and then hooking up 4 heat sensors. You can then program the heat sensors to put heat lamp on whenever the temperature in the coup drops below the minimum temperature and have it turn the heat lamps of when the sensor sees the temperature has hit the max.


When I was in middle school my parents got me the Lego NXT Mindstorm. It had a ton of robot builds and programming guides to follow, and even more optional things to get later (obviously, lego is trying to turn a profit after all). I loved it.

It is also possible to blow away the OS on the computer it comes with to then run javascript instead of having to use the lego nxt's "drag and drop" programming interface.


There's a variety of robots around that could work.

Here are some examples I found online:










These all have simple remotes or an app to control them, with a programing mode. They do have pre-set controls, but that can be useful to show just what the robot is capable of.

I have the original Robosapien and even that was programmable with the remote.

*I'm not advocating any one brand or retailer, these are just the first results that came up and Amazon is simply easy to search.

**I haven't used any of these robots myself, but speaking as a professional software developer and amateur roboticist, these seem extremely simple to use and program without any knowledge of programming languages.

  • As it is, this feels like a list of products first rather than an explanation of why each of these things are good choices. Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 13:57

Very surprisingly, I recommend a game - check out Lightbot (Hour of Code)!
This is just a website (or optionally a phone app), but an incredible introduction to programming with a limited set of (perfect) instructions in a friendly, entertaining, and convenient wrapper

I normally abhor handing out phone games to children, but this is such a good and simple example of what you're after, I believe it's worth the exception (I'm not related to the project, but the idea has stuck with me and I've even showed it to adults who learned about functions and took great enjoyment from it!)

You don't say how old your daughter is, but Sparkfun has terrific Arduino-based kits, which require a computer to program them, but may be much more interesting and flexible than a series of buttons


This code-a-pillar from Fisher Price sounds almost exactly like what you described in your post.

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