Want to build a robot without going broke? Five different robot kit manufacturers are competing to win over DIYers that want to save a little money. In this review I’ll be taking a look at 5 cheap yet awesome affordable robot kits:
1. littleBits Arduino Coding Kit
At first glance, littleBits looks like a toy for kids. However, a deeper look at this incredibly innovative product reveals some truly impressive features that even hardcore DIYers will love. My favorite thing about the littleBits system is that you don’t need any wires or tools to use it. The magnetic electronic components snap together just like Lego bricks.
2. Elegoo Smart Robot Car Kit
This kit comes with everything you need to make a 4-wheeled obstacle avoiding robot. There are a lot of cool components that come with this kit, and they are all well built. This kit’s main weakness is that the instructions aren’t so great. But if you’re savvy enough to figure this kit out yourself, it’s a good deal.
If you want to get a whole load of robot stuff for cheap, this set’s the one for you. In this 200 piece robot kit you’ll find an LED display, an ultrasonic sensor module plus a CD with sample code to get you started programming.
4. DFRobot Beginner Robot Kit
The DFRobot Beginner Kit gives you all the basic components you need to learn Arduino UNO, plus a few extra motors and sensors to help you give your robot some interesting advanced capabilities. It also comes with a very helpful and well-written manual that walks you through several basic Arduino projects.
5. Sunfounder Starter Robot Kit
SunFounder’s robot kit doesn’t have many components, but it does have excellent instructions and a super low price tag. In terms of components, it’s pretty bare bones. However, the manual comes with videos that walk you through every step of each experiment.
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- 1. littleBits Arduino Coding Kit
- 2. Elegoo Smart Robot Car Kit
- 3. Robotlinking Uno Super Learning Kit
- 4. DFRobot Beginner Robot Kit
- 5. Sunfounder Starter Robot Kit
- Why should you listen to me?
- Affordable Robot Kit Round-Up: the Brains
- Affordable Robot Kit Round-Up: the Motors
- Affordable Robot Kit Round-Up: Sensors and Displays
- Affordable Robot Kit Round-Up: Mobility
- Affordable Robot Kit Round-Up: Instructions / Ease of Use
- Which Affordable Robot Kit Is the Best?
Affordable Robot Kit Round-Up: the Brains
All of the robot kits listed below contain imitation Arduino microcontrollers. Arduino is the world’s most popular hobby robotics platform. The company believes in open source hardware and software. That’s why they publish their hardware blueprints directly to the web for all to see and learn from.
Each manufacturer that I reviewed does a decent job of emulating the Arduino Uno. The Arduino Uno is Arduino’s entry level microcontroller.
Best brains: 5-way tie
Affordable Robot Kit Round-Up: the Motors
A robot’s motors are almost as important as its brains. Without good motors to push it around, your robot won’t go anywhere.
The littleBits Arduino Coding Kit only comes with one motor: a servo bit. If you want more moving parts, you have to buy an additional kit or order individual components separately.
Elegoo’s Smart Robot Car Kit has four different wheel motors which connect together through a very nice motor driver board (L298N). The Elegoo kit also comes with a cool little servo motor, which allows you to build a “neck” for your robot’s “head.”
Robotlinking’s Super Learning Kit and DFRobot’s Beginner Kit both come with a three-piece motor set. Both kits come with a servo motor, a stepper motor and a DC motor. All three motor types are common in robots, but they’re all totally different. Experimenting with all three types will help your robot knowledge grow by leaps and bounds.
If you get the SunFounder kit, you’ll be limited to building stationary robots. It doesn’t contain any motors at all.
Best motors: three-way tie between Elegoo, Robotlinking and DFRobot
Affordable Robot Kit Round-Up: Sensors and Displays
Ultrasonic sensors are simply awesome. They allow your robot to find their way around your house like a bat, using echolocation to detect and avoid obstacles. The Robotlinking kit and the Elegoo kit both come with ultrasonic sensors.
The DFRobot kit is the only one that comes with a gyroscope module. Gyroscopes allow tall two-wheeled robots to maintain their balance. A gyroscope would be fun to experiment with, but its practical usefulness is probably somewhat limited.
The Robotlinking kit is the only one that comes with any type of display. Its 1602 LCD screen allows you to do a lot of interesting things, like print out messages and set up interactive programs.
Unfortunately, the littleBits Arduino Coding Kit doesn’t come with any sensors. However, the company does make lots of cool ones. littleBits’ pricey Gizmos & Gadgets Kit is twice as expensive as the Arduino Coding Kit, but it does come with a wireless transmitter / receiver, a light sensor and a bargraph LED.
Best sensors: Robotlinking
Affordable Robot Kit Round-Up: Mobility
The Elegoo kit is by far the most mobile budget robotics kit I’ve seen. It comes with everything you need to create an autonomous robot car that can drive around your house, exploring every nook and cranny.
Here’s a short video of the Elegoo bot in action:
You can make a walking/wheeling robot with the other four kits, too. But, you’ll have to buy a few extra parts to finish the job.
Best mobility: Elegoo
Affordable Robot Kit Round-Up: Instructions / Ease of Use
When it comes to ease of use and instructions, no other electronics kit comes close to littleBits. With littleBits, a person with zero electronics experience can immediately start snapping together cool gadgets and robots.
Here’s a video that shows how easy it is to make electronic devices with littleBits:
In addition to the excellent manuals that come with every littleBits kit, the littleBits official website is full of hundreds of project ideas and instructional videos. littleBits inventors from all over the world have populated the site with instructions and pictures of stuff that they’ve made.
The only kit that comes close to littleBit in terms of ease of use is SunFounder Starter Robot Kit. It’s the only other kit in this bunch that comes with supplemental videos to go with its instruction manual.
The Robotlinking kit and the DFRobot kit both lack instructional videos. However, they do both come with handy and easy-to-read manuals that show you how to make lots of fun little Arduino projects.
The only confusing robot kit of this group turned out to be the Elegoo Smart Car Robot Kit. Its instruction manual is poorly written and filled with grammatical mistakes.
Best instructions: littleBits and SunFounder
Which Affordable Robot Kit Is the Best?
I personally love making robots with littleBits because the littleBits system eliminates a lot of time-consuming tasks. If you’re new to hobby robotics, littleBits is the perfect choice. However, if you have some robot building experience and you’re looking for a kit that comes with a ton of components, Robotlinking’s Uno Super Learning Kit could be the robot kit for you.
Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of each robot kit.
1. The best all-around robot kit for novices
The best affordable robot kit for beginners is definitely the littleBits Arduino Coding Kit. This entry level kit from littleBits is very reasonably priced, plus it’s incredibly easy to use and super flexible. Other kits allow you to design only one type of bot. But with the Arduino Coding Kit, you can easily design all kinds of crazy automatons.
The littleBits Arduino Coding Kit’s main shortcoming is that it only contains 8 bits. However, the strength of the littleBits system overall overcomes that weakness. You don’t need to buy a big expensive toolkit to use littleBits, plus you’ll never fry the components because magnets prevent you from snapping them together the wrong way.
- No tools, wires or breadboards necessary
- A fun way to learn C++ fundamentals
- Magnetized components snap together with ease
- Zero risk of blowing anything up or frying a component
- Tons of instructional videos and project ideas available online
- Kit only contains 8 bits and one motor
2. Loads of components, super low price
If you want to get a ton of cool robot components without paying an arm and a leg, the Robotlinking Uno Super Learning Kit may be the robot kit for you. With the Uno Super Learning Kit, you get more than 200 interesting components including an LCD display, 3 types of motors, a wall adapter and more. You also get a fairly decent instruction manual and a CD that has tons of open source code that you can mess around with.
It’s hard to find anything wrong with this kit. Its only problem is that “new wave” electronics kits like littleBits might soon make traditional robot learning kits like this one seem obsolete.
- Loads of cool robot components
- Super low price
- Good instruction manual
- Comes with open source code
- Best bang for the buck
- Future robot kits might soon make this somewhat “old school” style one look out of date
3. All the parts you need for an obstacle avoidance bot
The Elegoo Smart Robot Car Kit is a bit hard to figure out, but once you get it up and running you’ll definitely learn a lot. In terms of programming, there’s a lot you can do with an motorized obstacle avoidance bot.
However, beginners should avoid this kit because of its unclear assembly instructions. Another downside to the Elegoo kit is that it’s somewhat limited. All you can do with it is build one type of robot.
- Contains all the stuff you need to build an obstacle avoidance bot
- It’s one of the cheapest kits of the 5 reviewed here
- You can tweak the bot’s behavior patterns by changing its code
- Extra pins allow you to add on additional sensors
- The components are well-made and don’t break easily
- Assembly instructions are poorly written and confusing
4. This budget starter kit is a steal
The SunFounder Starter Robot Kit is the cheapest kit on this list– but it’s also the most basic. If you just want to experiment with an Arduino microcontroller and build a few simple circuits, this kit has everything you need. It’s excellent instruction manual and helpful videos will show you exactly how to complete each project. You could easily build a very simple robot with the components you get with this kit. One the other hand, if you want your bot to do more than just respond to audio commands and flash lights at you, you’ll need to buy some additional hardware.
- Super inexpensive
- The manual is well-written and informative
- Comes with helpful videos that teach you how to program Arduino UNO
- Perfect for learning Arduino basics
- SunFounder’s version of the Arduino Uno works just as well the real thing
- The components that it comes with are very basic (lights, buttons, wires, etc.)
5. A basic Arduino robot kit with lots of extra stuff
Like SunFounder’s Starter Robot Kit, the DFRobot Starter Kit for Arduino focuses on learning how to program the Arduino UNO. The difference is that it’s slightly more robust– and also, a bit more expensive. In addition to the basic wires, resistors, buttons and lights that you get with the SunFounder Starter Robot Kit, you also get a servo motor, a DC motor, a prototyping shield, some assorted sensors and several other extra goodies.
- Set includes advanced robot components (motors, sensors, shields, etc.)
- High quality components
- Comes with a storage case
- Well-written manual teaches you how to program Arduino
- DFRobot’s version of Arduino UNO works just as well the real thing
- There are no videos to go with the instruction book