Programmable Robot Kits

What is it that got the public hooked on robots? Perhaps it is America’s fascination with the droids in Star Wars like R2-D2 and C-3PO. Or maybe it is the desire to have more control over our environment. It could be the British television show Robot Wars. Which made robots much cooler, in my opinion. Maybe it is the secretive Dr. Frankenstein side of us that has the innate desire to create. Well, whatever the reason, programmable robot kits are here to stay.

There are programmable robot kits for kids. There are kits for beginners and serious programmers. Before we look at some of the kits that are the most popular. Let’s take a moment and see how programmable robots have affected our lives.

The Impact of Programmable Robots

After the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center, iRobot’s PackBot was used to search through the rubble for survivors. The US Military also used these rugged and intuitive robots to search for insurgents in caves and buildings in Afghanistan. Boston Dynamics has also created BigDog, a military pack mule (or should we say dog) that can carry up to 340 pounds at 4 miles an hour over difficult terrains. It is tagged as “The most advanced rough-terrain robot on earth.”

Robots have not always had a technical or military utility. Do you remember the Furby from Hasbro? It was released in 1998 by Tiger Electronics. Over 40 million Furbies were sold within the first three years. The device started speaking Furbish and as they listened to their user they would “learn” more English as they “grew.”  This interactive toy put small robots into nearly every home that had children.

Speaking of household robots, do you know anyone of your friends that use a Roomba, the vacuum cleaning robot? Introduced to the modern family in 2002, this disk-sized vacuum is equipped with multiple sensors to navigate through the house cleaning every square inch.

The History of Programmable Robot Kits

There are a lot of different companies that are now producing programmable robot kits. Perhaps the company that truly helped promote the hobby of robot creation was Lego Mindstorms. Lego Mindstorms has integrated Technic Lego parts with a programmable brick created at the MIT Media Lab. The brick was programmed using Brick Logo which was initially created by the University of Colorado in 1994 under the name LEGOsheets. The first kit contained two motors and touch and light sensors.

Since then, dozens of companies are now producing some awesome robot kits. Here is a selection of programmable robot kits that have different features, skill levels and functions. We have scoured the internet looking for the best programmable robot kits and then compared them to consumer reviews on Amazon. Here is what we have found:

Top Programmable Robot Kits for Kids (9 Years and Younger)

Thames & Kosmos Remote Control Machines

Ages: 8 to 14

Price: $55.00

This kit will keep you from getting bored. You can assemble 10 different models and control three different motors simultaneously via the included infrared 6 button remote control. The kit include 3 motors, the remote control unit, battery holder, 48 page instruction booklet and 182 construction pieces which are cross-kit compatible with all Thames & Kosmos products

Makebot mBot Robot Kit

Ages: 8+

Price: $75.00

If you are looking to get into robotics without having to spend a small fortune, then this robot is our top choice. It is designed as an educational robot to help children learn programming, electronics and robotics. The modular design simplifies assembly to it can be built in around 10 minutes. You do not need any code. Instead it uses the Scratch 2.0 drag-and-drop platform and is compatible with Arduino programming. You can even download the free app to program the bot to play football or bot fight.

Makeblock Starter Robot Kit

Ages: 8+

Price: $120.00

This robot kit is a great way to start creating robots. It incorporates both electronic modules and mechanical parts. You can build either a 3-wheeled car or a tank that can run either as an IR version or off Bluetooth. You can make an ultrasonic obstacle-avoiding robot or an IR controlled robot using several different types of sensors. The Me series is extremely user-friendly. It also uses Scratch 2.0 open source code and supports Arduino programming. This is a non-solder kit. The end product is a tough little robot.

Wonder Workshop Dash and Dot Robotics Kit

Ages: 5+

Price: $200

This is a great way to introduce your children to programmable robots. The bots arrive fully assembled and free apps can be downloaded to control them from an Apple or Android device. Using Blockly, a drag-and-drop programming language, you can snap together commands. They can be programmed to squeal when you pick them up, navigate around corners and behave as an automated security system. They can be programmed to complete basic movements or even follow complex sequences. There are several add-ons that extend the fun from playing songs, recording videos and more.

HEXBUG VEX IQ Robotics Construction Set

Ages: 8+

Price: $265.00

This is a versatile, modular, tool-less programmable robot. You start with the step-by-step instructions and then you can expand the programming to include nearly limitless possibilities. There are 12 self-configuring input/output ports, 4 motors, over 750 pieces, 1 color sensor, 1 bumper sensor, 1 touch LED sensor and several built-in rotational sensors. All controlled with a video game style remote.

Great Programmable Robot Kits for Beginners (Ages 10+)

OWI 14-in-1 Solar Robot

Price: $22.00

Don’t let the cheap price fool you. This is Amazon’s #1 Best Seller and has over 593 customer reviews. This little solar powered robot can be transformed into 14 different bots including a tail wagging dog, walking crab, and running beetle. The snap together kit includes parts enabling the robot to move on land and water or both. It is suitable for both beginners and experienced builders.

Edge Robotic Arm (OWI-535)

Age: 10 to 15

Price: $42.00

This non-soldering robotic arm can be programmed to execute multiple movements and functions. It runs off of 4 D-sized batteries and can either interface via USB or the joystick controller. There are 5 motors and joints creating a 120 degree wrist motion, an elbow range of 300 degrees, a base motion and rotation of 180 and 270 degrees respectively. The arm has a vertical reach of 15 inches and a horizontal reach of 12.6 and can lift more than 3 ounces.

Parallax Boe-Bot

Price: $160.00

Do not be put off by its tiny size. It is a popular hobbyist robot. It is based on the PBASIC 2.5 source code and breadboard circuit which allows for user expansion. No programming or electronics experience is needed. The kit comes with a 200 page step-by-step instruction book that includes detailed schematics. Each project will take about one to two hours to complete while the entire set of 41 included projects will take at least 50 hours to master.

Lego Mindstorms EV3

Price: $350.00

With this set, you can create and command robots that walk, talk and think. The kit includes instructions to construct 5 different robots. The robot is integrated with the Intelligent EV3 Brick that carries an ARM9 processor and can be easily programmed using the Lego-based drag-and-drop programming. It can be connected via USB, WiFi, and a Micro SD card. There is also an app available for iOS and Android devices. The kit includes 3 interactive servo motors, remote control, a color sensor, touch sensor, infrared sensor and over 550 Lego Technic pieces.

Advanced Programmable Robot Kits

Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0

Price: $699.00

The kit contains a NXT Brick 32-bit microprocessor and large matrix display. It has 3 interactive servo motors, 4 input and 3 output ports, 4 Ultrasonic sensors, 2 touch sensors, color and light sensor, microphone, test pad, software, 7 x 6 wire cables and 619 Lego pieces. It uses Lego based software based drag-and-drop programming. Initial programming will only take about an hour. From there, the programming can be expanded to complete 16 different suggested activities. You can also use a variety of languages including C/C++ and Java. Four different robots can be completed out of this one kit. In the end, you can program a robot that can see, speak, feel and move.

ROBOTIS Bioloid Premium Kit

Price: $1,200

If you are looking for a state-of-the-art advanced programmable robot kit, then this is it. The constructed robot mimics humanoid walking and even adjusts its posture due to the incorporation of various sensors including gyro and distance ranger. You can also create a puppy, dinosaur, spider and scorpion and 21 others.

It is based on C-style programming and RoboPlus S/W USB motion teaching interface. The kit even includes transparent humanoid skin, CM-530 controller, RC-100A wireless controller, IR receiver, Dynamixel Ax-12a servo modules and Li-Po battery.

Programmable robots are a great hobby both for younger and older ones. Why not put together a kit with your family. It will be an educational experience that can provide hours of fun. As your skills increase, we are sure that you can find more kits that can satisfy your creativity.