Some of these kits are ready built and requires only hooking things up. You should consider how much of the building your kids may want to do. Depending on the kit, the focus is on learning how the mechanics are built and how to program the robots. In the beginning, you may want kits that assemble in minutes before you can experiment.
Why learn robotics
As your kids grow up, they will encounter more and more technology, including robots. Knowing, at least partly, what is going on under the shells will be useful whether they stay in the field or not. Thinking like an engineer also requires that you see every problem as the beginning of the next step. The solution, if you will, that is a soft skill we should all learn.
What are the basics
For a robot to function properly, it needs to move about, sense its surroundings and grab stuff. Obviously, the system may also interpret the input to decide actions. The level of intelligence needed will depend on your application. For educational purposes, you start with a low level and work your way up. The pieces you need are separated in input, output and processing parts. Most available kits have simple sensors, though some come with cameras. The output is usually wheels, grip arms and displays. You should consider if you want to start experimenting or if the building is an important part of the lesson. It varies between kits.
BYOR – Build Your own Robot
Build Your Robot; you buy this kit to get going with understanding the logic and practicalities of robotics. You can connect the pieces without tools and start trying out the logic of robotics. The creators made a very pedagogic system, inputs are blue, and outputs are green.
You receive four inputs and four outputs in the kit from BYOR. In the box, there is also the main board and some cables. The cables are the same as the audio cables for your phone. The inputs are distance, audio and light sensors. Also included is a tuning knob for manual control. The four outputs are a servo motor, a stepper motor, an LED and a buzzer. The idea of this package is that you build the body of a robot from cardboard. With the parts involved, you can make the simplest robots. To program the robot, you use microbit to program this robot. This makes it very easy to get started programming. On Linux, you can use MicroPython to program it. This kit is limited if you want to make useful robots, but it is very fast to get started. Aimed at education, you can use this kit to teach and learn about robotics. If you aim for bigger projects, you need another kit.
Moonbot – More AI built-in
The Moonbot has three basic shapes; all parts come out of the box. The central unit is an Arduino compatible ATMega 1280; it also contains a vision sensor. The vision sensor is a camera and an ESP32 with Bluetooth & WiFi. The kit also contains servos, stepper motors and a range of sensors. When you receive this kit, you have everything available, even a battery pack to keep the robot active. The “Eyes” are rings of LEDs, and there is a speaker unit that can play any mp3 file you want. You also get four sensors, two touch and two infrared ones. These can be mounted for obstacle avoidance and other tasks.
To program, you can use scratch language and, since it is Arduino compatible, you can also use Arduino and C. This kit is more advanced than others while the user can get started quickly. In this case, the programming is the big thing. Building and designing is not the big challenge though that is also possible.
This kit has more built-in capability and can go further, but it also costs you more than the BYOR kit.
Sparki – All Open Source
Sparki is a ready-built robot using two stepper motors for moving forward and about. Being Arduino based, you have the flexibility to do what you want with it. Out of the box, it has an array of sensors, a Display and is built around a sturdy chassis. With the pieces inside the chassis, you can make a rolling robot that can sort stuff, follow paths and get out of mazes. Much of the AI is already there, and you have all the open source available. The whole robot is completely open-source, including all the files for building it from 3d-printed parts, the circuit boards and Arduino files. You can actually build everything just from the files supplied. It will only be worth it if you build another model and come up with your own ideas, though. Here are the files!
The Wink robot is a very simple robot with two LEDs for eyes, two motors and sensors. The sensors are light, three in the front and an infrared “headlight” for obstacle avoidance. The sensors can see visible and infrared, so you can use them for detecting light as well. There are more infrared and light sensors under the robot to detect surfaces and lines.
You can use all these sensors to make the robot follow lines, avoid obstacles and follow a light source. The robot is Arduino based, and all the lessons that you can download now show code to make all this happen. When you open the box, there is no mounting of any kind and some code is pre-loaded. You can start testing the functions immediately.
Without building and soldering the engineering, aspect is lost, but you may want to add that later depending on your kid’s interests.
mbot – Maker inspired
The mbot from Makeblock has the two wheels and steering motors the Wink has. This is a bigger model, though, you also need to assemble it yourself. The kit is built in the same fashion as a LEGO or Mechanics kits. This makes the building simple, and you can see clearly what is happening in the machine. This makes for a very educational build experience.
The mainboard is an Arduino compatible board. All the documentation tells you to use the Makeblock app to program it using the mblock application. You can, however, use python to program it, switching to Arduino C is built-in. Sensors are Light, IR, Ultrasonic and line follower. The mbot also has many modules.
This package is useful for learning more mechanics, and how to build stuff, it also has much more potential than the other kits.
There are plenty of robot kits you can use to teach your kids how robots work, and maybe you can learn something yourself. Before you decide which kit to use, decide what aspects will be the most interesting and captivating. That way, you can keep learning for a long time.