Robolink Rokit Smart($120)
Here’s a STEM-focused kit for Arduino learners to build a programmable robot in 11 different forms, including a crab, a clapping monkey, a pirate ship, a gorilla, and more. It’s backed by an online tutorial with instructions on how to build the robot using each design, the programming basics using Arduino software, and details on how to use the kit to build a robot for “sumo” one-versus-one competition.
According to Robolink, each design has a specific purpose: One can shoot rubber bands, one can detect edges, one follows lines, and so on. Batteries aren’t included in the kit, but you’ll find all the circuit boards, motors, and frames you need to build a cool, working robot. Robolink actually uses this kit at its Robotics Learning Center for kids in San Diego.
By default, you can use this kit to create BuzzBot, or his faithful companion, MuttBot (but not both). But there are enough pieces — 271 — in the kit to build whatever you want, including one “brain,” six servos, and a battery. You can purchase two additional servos if needed as a two-piece kit for $40, or a non-robotic animal companion for $50.
Once kids build the robot, they can record different poses and play them all in a string via the PRP system using the Jimu app for Android and iOS. But that’s boring, right? Also via the app, kids can string blocks of commands together using Blockly-based coding as well. The app even provides step-by-step instruction on how to piece both robots together.
This is Makeblock’s flagship robot kit, packing anodized 6061 aluminum mechanical parts with threaded-slot designs. The kit includes instructions for 10 different designs, such as the robotic tank, the robotic bartender, and the self-balancing robot. These designs are backed by the Arduino-based MegaPi mainboard that’s capable of handling 10 servos or eight DC motors simultaneously. The kit is also compatible with the Raspberry Pi board.
On the programming front, kids use the company’s Scratch 2.0-based mBlock software for PCs and mobile devices. This tool provides a drag-and-drop environment where kids string together blocks of code. Advanced users can use Python via the Raspberry Pi board, Node JS, or Arduino IDE. The parts list includes a Bluetooth module, so you can program and control your creation from any Bluetooth-based PC or mobile device.
Lego Mindstorms EV3 31313 ($350)
This kit consists of Lego-based bricks, a programmable EV3 “brick” that serves as the brain, four sensors, a handful of motors, and loads more pieces. The EV3 brick includes a built-in display showing the wireless connection, battery level, what the robot is currently doing, and more. Overall, you can build 17 different robotic designs, such as a slithering snake (R3ptar), a walking dinosaur (Dinor3x), a shooting scorpion (Spik3r), and a humanoid robot (Ev3rstorm).
By default, each design comes with its own unique features and programmed behaviors. They can also be steered using the included remote control. Users can program their creation using the LEGO Mindstorms Ev3 software for PC, and download their commands to the robot using a USB cable, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi. The software provides five programming “missions” to get kids started using icon-based programming blocks that are strung together. LEGO provides a programming app for mobile devices too.
LewanSoul xArm Robotic Arm ($199)
Not ready to invest time and money into a full robot? Then check out this robotic arm from LewanSoul. With a metal construction and high-quality servos, the Lewansoul is a step above other robotic arms. It has everything you need to construct and use the robotic arm in the box. The assembly can be complicated, so be prepared to help your children with this step, but LewanSoul has videos on its website that’ll help. Once built, the articulating arm does a reasonable job teaching kids how a 6-axis robot works. It also can interface with Arduino and Scratch for advanced programming and features.