In my quest to quench my son’s thirst for robot kits that combine hardware, software, and education, I’ve compiled a few of the best kits I've seen. Some of these are based on 'open' hardware plaforms -- Arduino, Netduino, BeagleBone, and Raspberry Pi -- while others are standalone custom kits. Circuit kits and flying kits (such as drones) are not included in this post, but I'll compile a listing of these for a future post.
There are many crowdsourcing projects that are well marketed, either through Indiegogo or Kickstarter, but with so much volume and marketing around fundraising campaigns, it’s getting more and more difficult to navigate to figure out which one(s) are good options for parents and their kids to play/learn together. It's a good problem to have more options, but how do we know which robot kits are right for my child?
So with that, here are a few robot making kits that look promising. I don't have direct experience with all of them, but they look interesting.
1) Play-i, the company behind robots Bo and Yana is one of the most popular robot toys to come to the market. Their crowdfunding campaign was sold out in November 2013, and recognized by the press as being a hugely anticipated toy that fuses robots and programming for kids of all ages (there is an interface for 5-8, for 8-12 and for children over 12.) They since raised $8 million in a series A investment in March 2014 to help bring their products to stores by end of the year. I really like that their mission is to bring computer programming to every child.
Preorder to receive your Bo and Yana for the holiday 2014 ($59 for Yana, $169 for Bo)
2) Romo ($149) is a different take on a robot. Romo is a programmable "robot companion" that uses an iPhone device as its brain to teach your kids programming. The robot is on 'tank track' wheels which is connected to an iPhone (not included), and programmed to respond to faces, can interact with people, or play chase. There are guided missions to help your child learn programming concepts and will bring the robot to life. You can also control Romo with another iPhone or iPad device, as long as it's on the same wifi network.
3) Modrobotics, the company behind Moss had a successful fundraising campaign on Kickstarter in December 2013 and raised $361,293. With Moss, you can build your own robots with magnetic robot construction kits (no coding, no wires). There are several kit types and expansion packs to choose from. Moss uses magnets to build a variety of robots and structures to make things move and light up. There are ball joints that make up hinges and power and data are sent through a contact on one side of each building block. An app on your smartphone controls the robot via wireless Bluetooth connection.
Moss is suggested for 8 year old and up and costs $149 for a basic builder kit and $399 for the advanced builder kit.
4) Sparki completed a successful Kickstarter campaign in May 2013. Sparki is an intro into programming, electronics, and robotics for kids in elementary school and above. Sparki works out of the box with a remote control. You can write your own programs (plug it in via USB), install the custom-enhanced Arduino software and try any of their example programs. Sparki’s code is available in both Arduino code (C/C++) and Minibloq drag-and-drop graphical programming, similar to Scratch.
Sparki is a great intro to programming and costs $149.
5) Lego Mindstorms EV3 combines LEGO, technology, and programming. Create and command robots that walk, talk, think and do anything you can program. EV3 includes a ARM9 processor, USB port, wifi connectivity, and SD card reader that's controlled by an icon-based programming interface. These are pricey ($349.99) but reviews on Amazon are positive (4.5 stars from 135 reviewers). Recommended age is 10-15 years.
These are only a few examples, but ones that have a good balance of programming and electronics. There are many others (such as Rapiro or Atoms robot), so please comment and let me know and I will be happy to take a look.