When people hear the word robot, they often think of the future. What many of them don’t know, is that robots play a very important role in manufacturing processes today. Some of their applications include handling operations, welding, processing, dispensing and assembly among several other things. Their application in day to day life is not that significant. However, open source robotic kits are trying to change that. In a bid to understand these robot kits, we are going to look at some of the best Arduino robot kits that are available in the market.
Arduino is one of the largest open source hardware platform in the world. So, most of the robot kits available in the market are designed specifically for Arduino or are Arduino compatible. Therefore, if you are looking to venture into open source robotics it is advisable for you to learn more about the Arduino platform and how to use it. If you are a newbie don’t worry. There is plenty of information out there to get you started.
Robotics is a fascinating field and from the sidelines appears to be all fun and games. However, that is not the case. To build an operational robot from scratch, one has to delve deep into the murky waters of torque calculations, sensor and actuator calibration, structural drawings and calculation of coordinates among many other things. However, thanks to open source robotic kits, you can now skip the mad scientist stuff and go straight to programming and controlling your robot.
What to Look for in Arduino Robot Kits
Since there are many Arduino robot kits available, it is important for one to know what to look for when acquiring a kit. For starters you should look at the ease of putting together the robot kit. Most of the kits are usually sent in parts that you have to assemble. Trust me, you don’t want to spend days trying to figure out where a certain screw goes or find out that you assembled the whole thing backwards once you are done.
The ease of attaching sensors and actuators to the kit should also be considered. Well, you can use the robot kit with the sensors and actuators that come pre-installed, but where is the fun in that? You should be able to add other sensors on your board easily and, if possible, without having to solder anything. This gives you versatility and allows you to maximize the usage of your robot kit.
Structural flexibility also plays a huge role in determining the Arduino robot kit to use. A kit that can be changed to different kinds of robots or used for a wide variety of functions enables the user to learn more when using it. It also allows the use of sensors and actuators in different ways, which is not only fun but also a good learning experience.
Microcontroller integration is another aspect that needs consideration. There are some kits that come with a microcontroller on-board, and others that don’t. With the microcontroller on board, you don’t have to purchase an Arduino board to control the robot kit. This also makes the kit compact since we don’t have to stack any arduino boards onto it.
Price is always a contentious issue, even with open source robot kits. It is always good to make sure that you get value for money. Expensive does not necessarily mean exemplary, nor does cheap mean mediocre.
The Official Arduino robot is an educational robot kit that is designed with the sole purpose of giving users a platform to learn about programming, electronics and mechanics. It comes with an array of inputs that include five buttons, two potentiometers, 5 floor sensors, an SD card reader and a digital compass. The outputs include a speaker, color screen and two motors that control the wheels.
One of its main features is that it has 2 on-board Atmega32u4 microcontrollers. This eliminates the need for mounting external microcontroller boards onto the kit. The microcontroller on the top board handles the control functions of the robot, while the microcontroller on the bottom board controls the motors.
In addition to that, there is plenty of prototyping space on the robot. The TinkerKit connectors allow for expansion of the board without having to solder anything. There is also space for soldering components on the board, so users are not limited to using expansion boards only.
The numerous input and output devices on this board provide one with countless tutorial possibilities. Moreover, since the control board can be separated from the motor board, you can use the control board for other prototyping needs that don’t require motion.
The Parallax Arduino robot kit is an ideal electronics, robotics and programming learning tool. It comes with a Board of Education shield which plugs onto an Arduino board and mounts on the Boe-Bot robot chassis. Using the setup, you can follow some of the Arduino robotics lessons provided together the Board of Education Shield.
The kit comes with lights and speakers for status indication. There are also touch sensors for navigation by contact, phototransistors for navigation by light and infrared sensors to measure distance and follow or avoid objects. The wheels are driven using continuous motion servo motors. This enables easy tracking of wheel position. All these features make the robot ideal for preprogrammed navigation applications. An Arduino can be easily mounted onto the kit, thanks to the Board of Education shield PCB. The kit also comes with all the assembly hardware that is needed including a parallax screwdriver for fastening the screws. Therefore, assembling the kit is easy.
Another important feature of the parallax robot kit is that it comes with lessons on how to use it. The lessons have 40 hand-on activities that will enable you to learn how to use the different sensors and actuators on the robot kit. This makes the learning process quicker.
Sparki is an Arduino robot kit designed for learners. It is used in over 1000 K-12 schools and some top universities and also has an active community and lessons that can help the learners reach their targets quickly. The kit comes readily assembled so it can be used straight out of the box. Moreover, all its accessories, such as IR remote, Bluetooth module and pen, come free. It can also be controlled wirelessly via Bluetooth and IR.
The kit can be programmed using two different programming languages. If you are an Arduino newbie you can start off by learning with how to use the simple block-based programming environment. Afterwards you can proceed to programing with C or C++.
Sparki comes with a wide variety of sensors and actuators on-board. Some of the sensors include IR remote receiver, light sensors, ultrasonic distance sensor, 3-axis accelerometer and 3-axis magnetometer. There is also a 128×64 LCD on board, a piezo speaker and Rgb color Led for output and a mini Usb and 16-pin breakout with SPI, UART and I2C. This prevents you from incurring huge costs of purchasing extension boards for your robot kit.
With more than 100 free lessons, an open source platform and excellent support, one doesn’t have to struggle to find solutions to any arising problems when using Sparki. This allows the user to spend more time focusing on learning new things, rather than solving hardware and software issues.
mBot is a versatile Arduino robot kit that you can use to make a variety of robots, such as a wall avoidance robot, line following robot and a football playing robot. Despite there being 38 assembly parts, assembling the bot doesn’t take much time. You should be done in 20 minutes or less depending on your pace.
The kit has RJ25 ports that make wiring easier. The mechanical body of the mBot can be extended using Lego parts and the Makerblock platform. All the electrical parts are based on the Arduino so they are easy to program. All this gives the mBot infinite extensibility and flexibility which allows you to turn the mBot into the robot of your choice.
Programming the mBot can be done using a customized version of Scratch 2.0 called mBlock. It’s a graphical programming software that is ideal for beginners. If you don’t want to use the graphical programming language, you can use the Arduino IDE.
Wireless control of the mBot is possible, using Bluetooth or IR wireless communication. Bluetooth allows you to control the robot via the customizable mBot Android or iOS application. 2.4GHz IR communication enables you to control the robot using the remote that comes with the kit. It has no signal interference like Bluetooth and is ideal for controlling the robot while in close proximity.
The robot kit uses the mCore board that has a microcontroller. Therefore, you don’t have to purchase any extra control boards such as the Arduino. The Bluetooth and hardware is also integrated into the mCore board which also eliminates the need for you to buy an external Bluetooth module.
Just like most of the other Arduino robot kits, MakeBlock is designed to help beginners learn electronics, robotics and programming. It is easy to assemble, since it has a simple aluminum extrusion structure, is easy to wire and does not require soldering. Therefore, you can be up and running in no time.
MakeBlock structural flexibility is also an important feature that learners will find very helpful. The kit can be used to build two kinds of robots – a three-wheeled robot car or a robot tank. This gives the user more hardware to work with and the opportunity to maximize use of the sensors and actuators that the kit comes with.
The robot uses an Arduino-based controller known as Me Orion. The board has RJ25 connectors to provide easy and firm connection of cables onto the board. Programming the robot arm can be done using a drag and drop programming platform that is based on Scratch 2.0
The MakeBlock robot can be controlled using Bluetooth. This is made possible by the Bluetooth module that is integrated into the Me Orion board. The kit also comes with the Me IR receiver V2.1 that allows the robot to be controlled with the Me IR remote controller.
The Emgreat robot kit is the simplest of the 6 robot kits we have reviewed here. It comprises of an intelligent car chasis with 2 motors and encoders attached to them for wheel control. There is also a 4 AA battery holder on top of the chasis for powering the setup. Once complete, it forms a three wheeled robot.
Since the robot kit doesn’t have too many parts, it is easy to assemble. This means that you can get up and running in no time. However, the structure of the robot is not versatile. So, you can only build the default 3 wheeled robot.
The Emgreat robot kit doesn’t come with a controller board or any sensors or extension hardware. You need to buy an Arduino board, motor controller and a few sensors so as to get the robot moving. Moreover, you have to look for the best way to stack the boards and sensors on the chassis, since there is no hardware provided for that.
This robot kit might not be ideal for a beginner, since it lacks many of the essentials. However, it’s awesome for a professional who wants to completely customize his or her robot. It can be used as a prototype for a better robot.
Arduino Robot Kits: Our #1 Pick
Selecting best Arduino robot kit is not that easy because each kit has something unique to offer. However, since the main purpose of the robot kits is to help beginners learn about electronics, programming and robotics, we will settle on the ArcBotics Sparki robot. This is because it is the most comprehensive robot kit in the group.
The Sparki usually comes assembled and ready for use. Moreover, it has wireless control over Bluetooth as well as Infrared communication and has a wide array of sensors and actuators integrated into its design. Moreover, the kit comes with more than 100 lessons with practical exercises and has an active support and community for learners. Therefore, it is ideal for both learners and professionals.