Robots are cool! If you’ve found yourself drawn to programming as a hobby, or are thinking about programming as a career, chances are you’ve dreamt of having your own personal programmable robot.
Programming and robotics are inseparable these days. In this guide, we’ll review some of the best robot kits to learn programming available right now.
Before we dive into the different robot kits available, let’s begin by answering some questions you may be asking yourself and other relevant concepts.
Are Robot Kits Programmable?
Yes! Or else we wouldn’t need this guide.
There are robot kits that are designed as children’s toys, but there are also those designed for students and even adults.
Programmable robots come in various different types and functions, some come in traditional robotic shapes, while there are also those with unusual shapes and sizes.
What Languages are Used to Program Robot Kits?
While there are various robot kit products designed for various programming languages, here are some of the most popular programming languages for robotic implementations:
Python is one of the most widely used programming languages not only in robotics but in most technological implementations.
Python is famous for its ease of use with simple and easy to understand syntax. There are so many libraries where you can use ready-to-use codes right away for various purposes.
Python together with C++ are two main programming languages for Robot Operating System (ROS), and so if you are serious about robotics programming, you have to know Python.
A lot of robot kits support Python, especially Raspberry Pi-based robots. However, since Python is an interpreted language, it isn’t the best for projects that require real-time performance.
C and C++
C and C++ are very versatile programming languages, useful for both low-level programming (motor, sensor programming) and high-level robotics programming including AI implementations.
C++ is more common nowadays than C, but C is typically used in systems-level programming while C++ is more common in higher-level development.
C and C++ aren’t as easy to use as Python and you’ll generally take longer to program with C++ than producing the same functionality with Python.
However, C and C++ are better if the robot kit demands real-time performance (which a lot of robots are dependent on).
Arduino-based robots typically use C-based language.
Java is an object-oriented language offering various useful high-level functions that are great in robotic implementations.
Java’s Media Framework, for example, is typically used in image recognition and processing in robotics.
Java is easier to program with than most other languages since it masks the functionality of the underlying memory and other “lower-level” tasks.
Java is also an interpreted language, so it’s not ideal for real-time applications and performance.
C# and .NET Framework
C# (C sharp) is pretty similar to C and C++ with a lot of identical syntaxes. However, C# features different libraries of functions and the objects you can use in your code are different.
C# is a part of Microsoft’s .NET framework and is useful if your robot kits used Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio, which uses C# as the main language.
MATLAB is a fairly ‘old’ programming language, has been around for more than three decades, and is typically used in engineering applications for data analysis and to create controller systems.
MATLAB interfaces smoothly with other languages commonly used in robotics, like Java, C/C++, C#, and others.
MATLAB has a specific robotics-centric interface called the Robotics Toolbox, designed for arm-type robotics and mobile robotics functions. Not as versatile as Python of C/C++, but is still a great language to learn.
Arguably BASIC and Pascal are the best languages to learn as beginners. After all, BASIC stands for Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, so it is very easy to learn.
If you are really new to programming, BASIC will teach you useful concepts like procedural language, conditional structures, and so on.
Not the most powerful and/or versatile, but can be a great foundation upon which you can build your programming skills.
Top 3 Best Robot Kits for Adults
First, we will review some robot kits that are designed for adults or intermediate/advanced users.
After we’ve tested various different robot kit products available in the market, here are our recommendations for the top 3 best robot kits to learn programming for adults:
- Designed for age 14 years and up
- RM core CPU, built-in Bluetooth,16M storage memory
- The single-action group can hold 510 actions.
- Support wireless handle and free Android/iOS APP; Provide graphical PC software
- Uses serial bus servo motor with angle, temperature and voltage feedback, motor shaft lock protection, the
- Long-lasting LX-15D serial servo
- Simple wiring with plug and play suction cup design
- With ARM core CPU, built-in 4.0 Bluetooth module, and 16M storage memory
- Programming language: graphical custom language
Pros and Cons
- Expandable with Arduino, versatile design
- Full 6-degrees of movement freedom, allowing a very versatile positional control
- Easy programming with the graphical interface software and mobile app
- Rugged and durable construction
- The servo motors are sometimes twitchy
- The included instruction manual is a little bit confusing
- Up to 46 customizable components give you unlimited space for innovation and six PWM ports support customized accessories
- A series of projects, video courses, and programming guides that range from beginner to expert enhance users’ knowledge and understanding of mathematics, physics, programming, robotics, and artificial intelligence to strengthen problem-solving and critical thinking skills. These lessons let users of any level understand complex principles in an engaging way.
- RoboMaster S1 supports Scratch and Python programming languages
- Line Recognition offers users practical experience with automatic driving principles, robotic control, mathematics, and physics
Pros and Cons
- Built-in camera, can record footage in 1440p and photos in 5MP
- Compatible with scratch as well as python for programming
- Versatile and highly customizable
- 21 LED lights for visibility and interaction, 36 sensors, making it highly responsive
- Has trouble moving on non-smooth surfaces like grass
- Joystick might be too sensitive
- Raspberry Pi-based (Compatible with RPi 4B/3B/3B+/2B/2B+, Raspberry Pi is NOT included)
- Torsion-protected servo motor, power-failure protection after overload, extra safe
- Wide-angle USB webcam to real-time image/video transmission
- Remote control with the UI on PC or on a web browser (mobiles, tablets)
- Supports Python, easy and fast to code
- There are many ways to control the robot remotely: with the app on PC (works on any OS), you can control the car and the cam’s direction on the UI and view the image it takes in real-time; or, with the related code, realize the same functions on a web browser, means it can work with any mobile phones, tablets, etc.
Pros and Cons
- A great robot kit if you want to learn raspberry Pi
- Easy to program with Python, and you can also program it with Dragit (visual drag and drop language) for even easier programming
- Versatile functions
- Great real-time video transmission with its built-in camera
- Full control of the steering and control of the camera’s panning servo, with a full 120° of motion available
- Limited documentation
- Raspberry Pi is not included
Top 3 Best Robot Kits for Kids
Now, we will also review some of the best robot kits for kids:
- 601 pieces and includes the intelligent EV3 Brick, 3 servo motors, plus color, touch, and IR sensors.
- Comes with instructions for 17 different robotic designs, each with its own unique features.
- Compatible with all LEGO construction sets for creative building.
- The main robot design, SPIK3R, is over 16” high, 14” long, and 15” wide.
- An infrared sensor system enables robots to track and find the remote control
Pros and Cons
- Powerful ARM9 processor included with Wi-Fi and internet connectivity,
- Includes 3 interactive servo motors and remote control
- Instructions for 17 different robots included (some on LEGO website)
- Intuitive EV3 Programmer App available for iOS and Android tablets
- Needs 6AAA batteries, power-hungry
- Fairly expensive
- Blockly coding to program your robot to navigate obstacles, pick-up objects, control light, add sound effects, add personality, and more.
- Blockly coding challenges for children
- Create entirely new, custom actions with the PRP (pose, record, play) function
- Includes 387 snap-together parts, 1 infrared sensor, 1 speaker, 2 LEDs, and 5 smooth motion robotic servo motors. Power adapter and quick start guide also included
- Works with both Android and iOS devices
Pros and Cons
- Compatible with LEGO blocks
- Easy to use even for younger children, great for teaching young children to program and construct robots
- Great PRP (pose, record, play) function
- Blockly coding platform is easy to use and is a great learning platform
- Relatively expensive
- Includes 847 LEGO pieces that kids can build and rebuild into 5 cool multifunctional models.
- 5-in-1: Construct and code Vernie the Robot to dance, rock out on the Guitar4000, foster Frankie the Cat, interact with the Autobuilder or explore a new discovery with the M.T.R.4 (Multi-Tooled Rover 4).
- Vernie the Robot stands over 10″ (27cm) tall, Guitar4000 over 1” (5cm) high, 16” (42cm) long and 5” (15cm) wide, Frankie the Cat over 6” (17cm) tall, AutoBuilder over 10” (27cm) high, M.T.R.4 over 4” (12cm) high, 9” (23cm) long and 5” (14cm) wide.
- Compatible with selected iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows 10 devices with BLE 4.1 and newer. Compatible with select mobile devices.
Pros and Cons
- Compatible with various LEGO products
- Relatively affordable when compared to similar products in its class
- Easy assembly (being LEGO product), and easy to program for children
- Easy to follow instruction manual
- A lot of parts included might be confusing for younger children
- Only compatible with tablets (not smartphones)
Important Factors to Consider When Choosing Robot Kits
With so many different robot kits available on the market that are designed for ‘beginners’, which one is actually the right one for you?
While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, here are some important factors to consider when choosing between different robot kits:
Arguably your budget is the most important factor to consider when purchasing your robot kit.
However, it’s also important not to solely decide based on price (i.e. buy the cheapest robot kit available), but on value. That is, aim to get the most affordable robot kit that offers the features you need.
Typically the more affordable the robot kit is, the more limited the functionalities it will offer, and you’ll also get a limited number of project designs.
On the other hand, expensive, high-end robot kits will typically offer more project variations and functionalities.
Most robot kits offer built-in or removable batteries as their power source, which you can recharge via a power adapter, USB connections, or in some cases, solar panels.
If the robot kit is going to be used by children, make sure the power source is safe to use by children.
Also, check the power consumption rate of the robot kit.
Programming language and style
As discussed, these robot kits may support different programming languages, and some even use custom languages designed specifically for them.
Also, they may offer different styles of programming: drag-and-drop visual builder, traditional typing, or even drawing.
Your robot kit may offer different ways to control them: some offer a dedicated remote control, customizable microcontroller, and some might offer smartphone apps to control them.
If the robot kit comes with remote control, it should be within the range of 2.4 GHz frequency with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity.
Some of these robot kits might be ready to use (or ready to program) right out of the box, but some others might require manual assembly.
For adults, we’d recommend the xArm 1S Programmable Robot Kit as the best robot kits to learn programming: versatile with more than 10 robot designs and supports both Arduino and Raspberry Pi.
You can use Arduino IDE, Python, or NodeJS programming language to program it, making it the most versatile kit in our tests.
For children, we’d recommend the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 31313. While it’s not the most versatile and powerful, it’s very intuitive for children to learn robot building and programming.
That’s not saying the others on this list are bad products. We are confident that based on our tests, the robot kits to learn programming we have reviewed above are indeed the best available in the market today.
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