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App of the Week – Cargo-Bot

By Matthew McDonnell

Cargo-Bot is the first app to be programmed entirely on an iPad. And while this remarkable feat of software development has been the focus of most of the press surrounding the launch of Cargo-Bot, it is easy to argue that this is not the most notable aspect of this thoroughly impressive app.

It’s one thing to have a great idea, but it’s another thing entirely to turn that idea into a beautiful, simple, and educational app. That’s what developer Two Lives Left has done with Cargo-Bot; an app that’s value comes not only from the features it includes, but perhaps more importantly, from those that are absent.

The first thing you’ll notice about the app is that it’s got a remarkably simple premise. You are programming the cargo-bot – a simple claw-shaped grabber that scrolls from left to right along the ceiling – to move boxes from one position to another. The target cargo configuration is shown with a simple picture of the colorful boxes. In order to move the boxes into the desired formation, you have to write up to 4 lines of code.

A brief tutorial gets the user started and introduces the basics. Rather than writing lines of code in a programming language, Cargo-Bot has a simple solution – you drag and drop arrows and symbols into the empty spaces within the 4 lines of code you are allotted. The decision to allow for this kind of programming is inspired.

Rather than wasting time getting the text right or reading through lines of code for small typos, the logic of your programming is laid bare. The focus isn’t on developing hard skills in a particular programming language. Instead, the focus is on teaching the user how to think like a programmer.

A great example of this is the scoring in the game. After you write your code and successfully move the boxes to their appropriate location, you’ll receive 1, 2 or 3 stars, with more stars awarded for programs that require fewer steps to achieve the target configuration. This focus on economy is a hallmark of good developers and it’s refreshing to see it so effectively incorporated into a powerful educational tool.

The user will also be struck by the complex maneuvers that can be performed from such a simple menu of commands. Early in the tutorial, the user is introduced to the conditional modifier tiles. A plain English example would be: “move the box left, but if  it’s yellow, move it right.” The relatively few, simple modifiers add a remarkable complexity to the game that makes it fun and challenging for hours.

There are, however, some improvements that would be quite welcome. This app is geared toward slightly older children – for example, a 7 year old would get more out of the app than a 5 year old. But this doesn’t have to be the case. The challenge range is very broad, from “Easy” to “Impossible” but even the easier challenges get difficult quickly. A few more easy levels would make this app accessible to a much younger audience. Thankfully, there are some very helpful hints included for each level to keep the frustration levels low.

Ultimately, this app is a powerful education tool and a challenging puzzle app in the same digital package. That’s a tall order to fill but Cargo-Bot does so ably.

Cargo-Bot is recommended for Kids, Tweens, Teens, and Parents (Ages 5 and up) for basic programming concepts and challenging puzzles. Find screenshots, reviews and family-friendly ratings for Cargo-Bot and more of the best iPad apps at Famigo.com.

Developer: Two Lives Left

Compatibility: iPad (iOS 5.0 or later)

App Category: Games

Price: Free

Famigo Family Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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