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In every parents’ era, the world of robotics was fun, unique, educational, but the kits ... the kits were somewhat basic, just plug-and-play. Put the motor here. Add the batteries there.
Now, as we're asking a voice assistant to record the next Battlebots episode as a robotic vacuum cleaner sweeps the floor around us, finding robot-building kits to truly challenge young minds accustomed to living in a tech-rich environment can be a challenge in itself.
Where does a parent or teacher start when evaluating ’bot kits for kids? Obviously, you want a kit that takes a science-technology-engineering-math (STEM) approach while offering new technologies such as artificial intelligence platforms, Wi-Fi, sensors, and more. And as students younger and younger are carrying smartphones with internet access, the possibilities seem even more endless. Parents and teachers will also want kits that prepare kids to build critical-thinking and problem-solving skills while providing opportunities to learn coding and advanced mathematical concepts.
So, to get ready for a fun summer, here are four programmable kits of varying skill levels to get 'bot enthusiasts up and running. Have fun.
The DFRobot OB0147 Max:bot DIY Programmable Robot Kit (Figure 1) can develop bots that chase light, detect edges and collision points, and even play music. Beginners and kids will find this battery-powered device easy to assemble. The robot’s electronic modules include motors, speakers, line trackers, sensors and more built into and around an aluminum body. The 50-plus DFRobot Boson modules extends the bot’s functions. Micro:bit is the robot's brain with its own logical system that can process received information and send out commands. The robot can be programmed from a PC using Scratch and MicroPython block editor software.
Figure 1: The DFRobot ROB0147 Max:bot DIY Programmable Robot Kit includes motors, speakers, line trackers, sensors and more built into and around an aluminum body. (Source: Mouser Electronics)
The SparkFun ROB-14679 :MOVE Mini Buggy Kit (Figure 2) allows users to build a squarish two-wheel buggy that can be operated autonomously. The buggy can be controlled using micro:bit or programmed to perform remote control projects via a Bluetooth® app or with use of a second micro:bit as a controller. The buggy, which requires an intermediate level of construction knowledge, runs on two continuous rotation servo motors controlled by altering the pulse width modulation (PWM) signal using servo blocks found in the Microsoft MakeCode block editor software. The buggy also lights up, using five LEDs that can be programmed to be used as indicators, reverse lights, and more. The kit also includes a Kitronik :MOVE servo:lite board, which can be used with the micro:bit to build other movement-based projects.
Figure 2: The SparkFun ROB-14679 :MOVE Mini Buggy can be controlled using micro:bit or programmed to perform remote control projects via a Bluetooth® app or with use of a second micro:bit as a controller. (Source: Mouser Electronics)
The Seeed Studio AlphaBot Mobile Robot Development Platform (Figure 3) has the plug-and-play modules to build a two-wheel robotic vehicle that can be programmed for infrared line tracking and infrared or ultrasonic obstacle avoidance. Thanks to its WALL·E-like eyes, users can monitor video from a smartphone or PC. AlphaBot's movements also can be guided with a Bluetooth remote control through an app. The kit's Arduino version utilizes a UNO PLUS microcontroller board for development.
Figure 3: The Seeed Studio AlphaBot Mobile Robot Development Platform features plug-and-play modules to build a robot that can be programmed for infrared line tracking and infrared or ultrasonic obstacle avoidance. (Source: Mouser Electronics)
The Texas Instruments TIRSLK-EVM Robotics System Lab Kit turns the bot-building experience into a mobile lab environment, providing hardware and curriculum for students to learn embedded system design wherever they're set up. The kit is ideal for first-year engineering students. The TI-RSLK-EVM Robotics System Lab Kit (Figure 4) includes the TI-RSLKMAX, a robot that can take 15 minutes or less to build because of its solderless assembly. This kit features 20 advanced learning modules to accommodate wireless communications and Internet of Things capabilities. Students can monitor the robot's environment with easy-to-connect sensors and learn to send data to the cloud. Programming software (Code Computer Studio) is available for download from a mirror site. The bot’s chassis board is large enough for customization. Once built, the robot can explore a maze, race autonomously, locate an object, navigate through an obstacle, or follow a line. You can even set up a barrel race for the TI-RSLKMAX using principles of odometry.
Figure 4: Texas Instruments TIRSLK-EVM Robotics System Lab Kit turns the bot-building experience into a mobile lab environment. (Source: Mouser Electronics)
Finding the ideal robotic kit depends on what you want to learn. These robot development platforms provide ease of use with diverse hardware options to challenge young minds. The DFRobot ROB0147 Max:bot DIY Programmable Robot Kit is a good place to start with its easy assembly. The SparkFun ROB-14679 :MOVE Mini Buggy Kit requires a more intermediate level of skill. The Seeed Studio AlphaBot Mobile Robot Development Platform takes it a notch higher with video capabilities. Texas Instruments TIRSLK-EVM Robotics System Lab Kit features 20 modules, which gives it room for customization.
Mouser Electronics is a major sponsor of FIRST Robotics, an event comprised of nearly 100,000 students from around the globe competing in FIRST® INFINITE RECHARGESM. Learn more.
Tommy Cummings is a freelance writer/editor based in Texas. He's had a journalism career that has spanned more than 40 years. He contributes to Texas Monthly and Oklahoma Today magazines. He's also worked at The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, San Francisco Chronicle, and others. Tommy covered the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley and has been a digital content and audience engagement editor at news outlets. Tommy worked at Mouser Electronics from 2018 to 2021 as a technical content and product content specialist.
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