Robots! At least that is how my son says it. He loves everything to do with our fine mechanical friends. He does not discriminate. Roomba, VEXplorer, BEAM Bot, Bristle bot, or wind up toy, they all get his approval.
Partly because of his enthusiasm, and partly because of my occupation, I frequently get ask by parents to recommend a robot kit for their child. Until now I haven’t had a good answer because my knowledge is limited to more expensive high school and college level robotics kits and systems that start around $300 for a entry level kit.
So here’s my first look into the world of low cost robots. I should disclose that while I have purchased from some of these companies, I have not yet purchased or assembled any of these kits. I do plan to soon.
I’ll start with the list off with what appear to be the easier kits and work up to the more difficult.
- A Mechanical Tiger from Tamiya. It is comes with a pre-built gearbox, motor, and single AA battery holder. They don’t list an age group, but this should be good for any kids past the "eating stuff" stage.
- Tamiya also makes a Walking Robot Kit that can be built with 2, 4, or 6 legs. This walker looks a little more difficult to assemble, but should be good for ages 8+ with some help. It looks a lot more robot-like than the Tiger since it has a circuitboard for sound activated start and stop.
- Stepping up to a more complex mechanical design is the OWI Weasel Robot Kit. The Weasel has both touch and line senors, and a user selectable 3 speed gearbox.
- Also from OWI, is the Moon Walker II, a 4 legged walker. Mechanically it looks more complex than the Weasel, but only reacts to light and sound to run for a predetermined time.
- The i-robo, Line Tracer is a solderless line tracker that’s quite agile. I think it would be great for kids who haven’t made the jump to soldering, but want a more capable robot. Be sure to check out the youtubes to see how fast
- Dust off your soldering skills for the Solar Speeder, a member of the BEAM family. It teaches basic electronics, soldering, and solar power. Check out the documentation before you buy to make sure it’s not too far out of your skill range.
The Mousebot Kit is Solarbotics take on a junk bot. It runs off a 9V battery and has simple touch sensors (whiskers and tail) and a light sensor to help it navigate. This one is my favorite, but it is the most complex to assemble. Like with the solar speeder, I recommend reading the instructions before purchasing to ensure it isn’t too difficult.
That should give you some ideas. There are hundreds more to choose from in every skill range, so look around, buy a robot, and don’t be afraid. You really can do it if you take your time and read the directions. If you have any other recommendations, experiences, or suggestions, please post a comment. I’ll keep watching for new bot kits and try to follow up this post with more good kits for geeks of all ages.