Coding with Blocks4All App and Dash Robot: Introduction

Dash is a whimsical robot that moves, spins, talks, and makes noises. Kids select commands in the Blocks4All app that run the Dash robot. Designed specifically for students who are blind or low vision, the app utilizes large, colorful buttons and a simplistic layout and is fully accessible with VoiceOver.  The FREE Blocks4All app uses block coding, meaning that the student simply chooses a command block and then taps the location to place the block in the desired order. The student does not need to "write" the code or know a coding language. The Blocks4All app is completely accessible on the iPad with VoiceOver and Dash carries out the commands, making it easy for students who are visually impaired to know if they used the correct commands.

Dash is a bright blue robot with orange trim. Dash has three balls connected in the center that touch the ground. These balls have hidden wheels. On top of the three balls is another ball, which is Dash's head. The front of the head has a light up eye (trimmed in orange) that blinks. On the sides are two flat circles (ears) which also light up. On the top of the head are three smaller circular orange buttons with a slightly larger white button in the center. The power button are between Dash's back roller balls. Dash also has a triangular light on his chest.

Photo of Dash Robot facing front. In this view, Dash's eye if facing front and two of the lower balls are visible. The triangular light on Dash's chest is also visible.

In the video, Dash runs the simple 5 command route (described below).

 

Main Menu Options

  • Get Started (Begin coding with the code blocks)
  • Instructions
  • Add Robots (Pairing your Dash)
  • Show Icons
  • Show Text 

Pairing Directions

Start by pairing your Dash to the Blocks4All app:

  • Turn on your Dash Robot (make sure it is charged!)
  • On the Main screen, select Add Robots
  • The text "Dash" will appear; Select Dash

Typically, pairing is simple and quick; however, if the text "Dash" does not appear, be sure that your robot is charged, turned on, and close to your iOS device. The iPad's Bluetooth must be turned on in Settings. If the iPad does not find Dash, try closing the app, turning Dash off, and turning Bluetooth off; then try again. If the text, "Dash" does not appear, try doing a firmware update on your robot. (Steps for updating the robot firmware are at the bottom of the post.)

Getting Started

On the Main Menu page, select the Getting Started button to begin coding. Once the pages opens, the Toolbox options are in a column down the left side of the screen. The Main Menu and Clear buttons are at the top middle of the screen with the play arrow in the bottom right. The majority of the screen is open for the Main Workplace - the area where your code blocks are placed. 

Screenshot of the Blocks4All Getting Started page with Toolbox options down the left side and blank workspace.

Toolbox Options

The toolbox down the left side of the screen has the following options:

  • Sounds: (Animal, Vehicle, Object, Emotion, Speak)
  • Control: (Repeat, Repeat forever, If, Wait for time)
  • Drive: (Forward, Backward, Turn Left, Turn Right)
  • Lights: (Set Eye Light, Left Ear, Right Ear, Chest, All Lights)
  • Look: (Look Up, Look Down, Look Straight, Look Left, Look Right, Look Forward, Look Toward Voice)
  • Motion: (Wiggle, Nod)
  • Variables: (Set Variable, Drive, Turn, Look Up/Down, Look Left/Right)
  • Functions: (Create/Edit Functions)

Note: There are many options under each category. Example: When Sounds is selected, there are multiple types of sounds: Animal noise, Vehicle noise, Object noise, Emotion noise, Speak. Select the desired noise type and placer it in the Main Workspace. Want to choose a specific Animal sound? Select the cat (default animal) in the Main Workspace to open the menu for a choice of 10 animal sounds.)

Design and Play

Begin coding by selecting an item from the Toolbox menu. In this example, we want Dash to make an animal sound, move forward twice, turn right, and make a "bragging noise" (Emotion Noise).

  • Open the Blocks4All App
  • Pair Dash if the robot is not already paired
  • Create Animal Sound (default is cat)
    • In the Toolbox, select Sounds > Animal Noise
    • Tap the blank area in Main Workspace
  • Select the Back button in top left
  • Move Forward 2x
    • In the Toolbox, select Drive > Move Forward
    • Tap the blank area (to right of the Animal block)
    • Select the Move Forward command again
    • Tap the blank area (to the right of the first Move Forward block)
  • Turn Right
    • Select the Right Turn button
    • Tap the blank area (to the right of the second Move Forward block)
  • Select the Back button in the top left
  • Make a bragging noise
    • In the Toolbox, select Sounds > Emotion Noise
    • Tap the blank area (to the right of the Turn Right block)
  • Start Dash
    • Select the arrow in the bottom right corner

Image of the Main Workspace page with the codeblocks for the route listed above.

Screenshot of the Main Workspace screen with the Drive menu open in the Toolbox and code blocks: Cat, Move Forward, Move Forward, Turn right, Emotion Noise displayed.

Note: Most blocks have two parts: The top half of the block has a related image or the distance/amount; the bottom half of the block has the category or command image. Examples: Cat image on top and  text, "Animal Noise" on the bottom; 90 degree on top and text, "Turn Right" on the bottom. 

If you select the bottom half of the block, that block will be removed.

If you select the top half, a menu will open up allowing you to select from the options. Example: If the cat image is selected, there are 10 different animals available in the menu. If you select the 90 degree, you can adjust the slider to the desired degree and you can select how fast Dash moves.

If you want to place a command before a block that is already in the Main Workspace, select the desired command. Select the block that is to the right of where you want to insert the block. Example: If you want to add a Move Backward command before the Right Turn block, Select the Move Backward command block in the Toolbox, then select the Right Turn Block in the Main Workspace.

Video demonstrating how to create the 5 command code described above with VoiceOver on:

Accessibility Review of Blocks4All

I absolutely love the simple nature of this app! It is incredibly easy to learn and no prior coding knowledge is needed. Students who use VoiceOver only need to know a few VoiceOver gestures: right swipe, double tap, drag, and split tap are the common gestures used in the app. Currently, this is the only code block app that is fully accessible within the app - no modifications needed! The Dash robot has features that many robots do not such as the ability to make a variety of sounds, making it easy for students to follow as the robot goes through the coded command sequence. (Note: Dash does have visual commands such as different color light options that are not detectable by a totally blind student; but may be appropriate for a low vision student.) Dash moves forward one command at a time, making it easy to follow the number of "move forward" commands or other Drive-type commands. The VoiceOver hints will guide the student through the various steps. The screen layout is simple and uncluttered. For low vision students, the app has large, colorful buttons and code blocks. All students can easily check their code blocks, change the order, modify the default block or delete the block. This app is amazing - finally a fully accessible block code app for students who are blind or low vision! And, Dash is an adorable character that students love!

Trouble Shooting: Firmware Update 

My Dash robot did not initially pair with the Blocks4All app. Dash was fully charged and working (moving and talking). Turning off the Bluetooth in Settings (and turning Dash off) then turning both back on, did not resolve the issue.  Next, I followed the instructions on how to do a firmware update:

  • Press the three orange buttons and the Power button.
  • Immediately release all buttons when Dash's light turns red.
  • Download another app (I installed the free Blockly app)
    •  Press the arrow and skip the sign in.
    • On the next screen I selected the Add button in the top right corner.
    • Select Dash as the robot option. (It took less than a minute for the firmware to update.)
  • Close the Blockly app.
  • Turn off Dash.
  • Open Blocks4All app.
  • Turn on Dash.
  • Select Add Robots from the Main Menu.
  • Dash is now an option. Select Dash to pair.

Youtube video on how to update the Dash firmware:

 

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