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Lego Coding Express turns preschoolers into little programmers

Simple colors teach programming concepts to young kids.

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Lego Coding Express lets children create loops, play sounds and other effects with simple color bricks.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

So you've toilet-trained your 3-year-old. Great. Congratulations. I'm proud of you.

Now it's time to get real and teach that kid to code. With Lego.

A new Lego educational set announced Tuesday teaches preschool kids how to code toys. The Lego Education Coding Express is a buildable train set that uses large, kid-friendly pieces along with specialized color bricks that children can use to program how the vehicle moves around a track.

Kids can place blue, yellow, green, red and white bricks on the track, and the Coding Express vehicle will recognize the colors as it travels. The corresponding effect can change whether a child is using the train attachment or a caterpillar character. For instance, the train will change directions when it senses it's over a green brick or refuel itself over the blue.

When the caterpillar character is placed on the train's base, kids can use a corresponding tablet app to see an animated version of the caterpillar react based on the bricks laid on the train track. The caterpillar may sneeze or take a short nap when it passes over corresponding bricks, and children will then see the creature sneeze or sleep on the screen.

Since the set is meant for early education, the bricks can't be re-programmed. But children can pick up and place the colored bricks in front of the train as it choo-choos along the track, essentially altering what it does as it passes.

The entire set works over just Bluetooth with the optional iOS or Android app, meaning it doesn't connect to the internet in any way. That app provides activities called journeys, characters, music and math.

The Lego Education Coding Express will be available in the US and China for educators and administrators starting this October for $190. Availability in other regions will come in 2019, and while international pricing isn't yet available, the US price converts roughly to £150 and AU$260.

In addition to announcing the Coding Express, Lego Education brought several students to its New York event to show off their own coding projects, some of which were more mechanical in nature and others that make use of the Lego Mindstorms platform. Marcel Bonnici, 19, of the Astonishing Studios YouTube channel, put together an M&M's Chocolate Dispenser together with Danish builder ElectryDragonite that has gotten 10,000 supporters on the Lego Ideas website.

This Lego M&M dispenser lets you summon four different types of colored chocolates for snacking.

GIF by Mike Sorrentino/CNET

Kyle Markland, 17, who runs his BuilderDude35 YouTube channel, brought several robots, including this infrared-sensing shark. While the shark looks hungry, Markland said it tends to be the creation kids are the most into.

This shark is hungry for infrared signals.

GIF by Mike Sorrentino/CNET

Brothers Arvind Seshan, 13, and Sanjay Seshan, 15, of the EV3Lessons Lego Mindstorms programming website came too. Their creations included a programmable game seen in the below GIF and a printer that pairs up with a mobile app to make photographs taken by a phone's camera.

The boards for this match game can be swapped in, making for an electronic version of a shape-matching card game.

GIF by Mike Sorrentino/CNET
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