It’s absolutely obvious that nowadays robotics moves forward at a rapid pace. Robots are working not only in the factories all around the world, but they are becoming more familiar in our houses too. At present no one seems impressed by a domestic floor cleaning robot, robotic pool cleaners or a robotic lawn mower.
They are already common household items. And I’m pretty sure that in the foreseeable future we are going to have intelligent refrigerators, robotics irons and digital wardrobes… And it all started with very primitive robots and gradually became more and more complicated.
Experience has shown that learning through play, fun and a lot of positive energy leads to the development of creativity and achievement of excellent results.
I bet that most of the engineers who stood at the origin of the robotics, had been interested in this area since their childhood. And, probably, it all started with the most basic and simple robotics kits.
Why I decided to write how to choose best robot kits?
Not long ago I had a phone call from one of my old buddies. We haven’t seen each other for a while due to the lockdown and, as is often in the case, he called for advice. He wanted to buy something very special for his 10th birthday nephew, a robotics kit, to be exact. Actually, he felt at a bit of a loss after visiting the shop.
Moreover, he was a little taken aback by the excess of information. He told me that the man at the shop asked all the questions about the age and skills of his nephew, his interests, type of the kit he would like to buy… Just routine questions helping to make the right choice.
However, it was enough for my friend to get confused. He left the store empty-handed and decided to give me a call and get some more information.
Well, I’ll tell you, he did the right thing by calling me. That’s why I decided to write a post how to choose the best robot kit. I do hope that this information would be helpful for some of you.
Let’s get started!
What is a robot kit?
Robot kit is a special construction kit for building different types of robots. Generally, the kit includes motors, structural and mechanical elements, controller board and various sensors.
What to consider when buying a robot kit?
Looking for a very good robot kit can prove difficult. And as with any other stuff, there are several issues to consider before buying it. It’s one thing you purchase it for yourself and another – for someone else. In any case you need to answer several questions related to age, type of the kit, number of components, skill level, personal interests and priorities. Remember? As I have already mentioned, these routine questions made my friend a little confused. But you cannot avoid them, if you would like to buy a proper stuff.
1. Skills Level
One of the most important criteria to consider when buying a robot kit is skills level of a person who is going to use it. It’s obvious that a total newbie in programming and robots’ building should start with beginners’ kits. That’s the best and more logical approach to the process. In case your knowledge and experience in programming and robotics are pretty basic, and don’t have any help, go for the simplest stuff and try to get a general idea of building and programming. Therefore, try to find a kit meeting the following requirements:
- complete package: no extra tools required;
- totally assembled beginner kit (“out-of-box” or “plug-and-play” kits);
- no soldering (if you don’t have any soldering experience).
Users with intermediate and advanced skills should go for more sophisticated programmable robots with real hardware.
Just to remind you, age of a person for whom you are buying a kit, is not the most important criterion. Not only kids and teens can have lots of fun building robots, but adults too. and it’s not forbidden to start with robotics in any age. It means that beginners could be of different ages, including adults-beginners too. For kids’ beginners you can get various robot kits that will serve an introduction to programming in fun and simple way and robotics technologies in general. There are robot kits compatible with LEGO: and here the possibilities are really endless! With actuators and sensors, you can make lots of new things.
Beginner robot kit for adult will be same simple stuff but the end result may look a bit different and be more practical.
3. Type of a kit
All robotic kits can fall into two categories: soldering and non-soldering.
Some hobbyists really enjoy soldering. If you are one of them, go for a soldering robot kit. It means that in order to build a robot you need to solder the components included in the kit.
TIP: Most of the soldering robot kits don’t include any soldering tools. Therefore, it would be better, if you check what goes with the kit before buying it.
The only disadvantage of any soldering robot kit is that you would be able to make only one project only as all the components are soldered and are not designed or intended for re-use.
Non-soldering or solder-free kits include mechanical kits, snap circuits kits, breadboard kits, and coding ones.
Mechanical kits would allow you build many different models using mechanical body parts and motor with electric wires, and more.
With snap circuits kits learning robotics is lots of fun. In order to build a robot, you need to mount the parts on plastic grid and snap them with each other. As a result, you can build radio control/remote control cars with headlights and taillights, or a water tester to determine if a liquid is salt water or not and other fun toys.
There are various DIY robotic kits requiring coding for users of all ages: starting from basic forms of “coding” (using coding cards to create step-by-step path and learning the basics of sequence programming) to Arduino and Raspberry projects, for example. These coding robot kits are great tools that would help to develop problem-solving skills, teach logic, cause and effect.
4. Number of parts/details/components
If you really don’t have a clue about the number of parts (details or components) in the set, with this simple rule you can’t go wrong: the younger the hobbyist, the fewer number of parts in a kit.
TIP: Don’t worry that there are a few components in some of the beginners’ kits! Modern sets are done in a way that you can’t overgrow it. The trick is that most of the kits have the possibility of future upgrade. It means that later on you would be able to buy another kit containing totally compatible parts, allowing you to build more complicated projects with the components you already had.
5. Interests/Personal preferences
We all have our personal interests and preferences, and the same is applicable to the hobbyists. Some of them are not interested neither in inventing something or building robot, however, they prefer to spend hours playing with software and coding. In such a case it’s better to buy fully assembled, so called “out-of-box” or “plug-and-play” kits, and enjoy programming. When looking for any robot kit, these issues should be considered.
6. Remote control, interactivity, mobility and power supply.
When talking about robot kits, I would recommend to look for the robots that come with remote control, mobility, interactivity, and power supply.
Remote control: Robots with remote control are fun and far more to challenging to build and play. Many kits come with a remote control, though a smartphone could be used as a remote: it’s up to a person working with a kit.
Mobility: It’s always more fun when a robot has a certain degree of mobility or even able to move around on wheels.
Interactivity: Robot is one of the best interactive tool one can think of. Probably it’s not that easy for beginners, but depending on the skills level and kit you want to buy, it’s possible to program the robot to recognize basic words and phrases, learn preset commands, etc.
Power supply: Try to find kits with in-built power supply, it’s more convenient and easier to use.
7. Building Platform
Most robot kits support Arduino and are built around that platform, as well as Raspberry Pi.
8. Other issues and tips
If you looking for a gift for a kid interested in robotics, try to find a kit that could be a fun introduction into the world of robotics. It can be a very simple, out-of-box robot, or maybe some cubes that are easily transformed into robots with different behavior, or maybe some small educational robots, a game board with coding tiles.
For an experienced teenager I would recommend more complicated sets. LEGO robot kits, for instance, is a good choice, as it gives a chance to build several different robots and learn how to program them.
For someone with an extremely curios and scientific mind I would suggest to look for advanced robotic kits. Try to find robots that can move around in an unpredictable environment or fulfilling different tasks like gripping an object, etc. If you are interested in programming (MATLAB, C++, C# and Python), go for humanoid robot. If you find a robotic engineer kit with Dynamixel servomotors, you would be able not only to build a robot, but to learn AI, computer vision, face recognition, etc.
In fact, before posting the article here, I have sent it to my friend. He was very pleased with my “Buyers’ Guide” and said that I provided him with all the necessary information that really helped him to make the right choice. Hopefully, this review would give you some useful information too and you would find your way in the wide range of robotics kits!