highschool-robotics-kit

Robotics Kits for High School – 4 Robot Kits for Teens (2017 Update )

Is your teenage son or daughter into robots?  If so, you’re in the right place.  In this review I’ll be taking an in-depth look at 4 robotics kits for high school.  Each of these kits are fun, yet still advanced enough to entertain a high school age kid.

Robotics high school kit #1:  A Lego compatible system called BrickPi

In my opinion there are much better kits out there, but BrickPi is a sensible choice for young teens who are beginning to outgrow Lego Mindstorms.

Check the price of BrickPi on Amazon.

Robotics high school kit #2:  The official Arduino starter kit

This simple starter kit from Arduino has excellent instructions and it gives teens a good intro to building circuits.  However, it’s a bit light on hardware compared to the other kits.

Check the price of the official Arduino starter kit on Amazon.

Robotics high school kit #3: The Quadruped Crawling Robot Kit from SunFounder

If you are scared of spiders, this insectoid robot will definitely send a chill down your spine.  There are a lot of cool things you can do with this bot once you get it up and running.

Check the price of the Sunfounder Crawling Robot Kit on Amazon.

Robotics high school kit #4:  The Educational Robot Starter Kit from Makeblock

The Makeblock starter robot kit is widely considered to be one of the best robot kits for students on the market today.

Check the price of Makeblock on Amazon.

Robot Kit Review Method

I’ll be comparing these kits in 5 different ways.  First, I’ll take a look at each kit’s microprocessor.  Then, I’ll check out the motors.  Next up is sensors and displays.  Then, mobility.  Lastly, I’ll compare the instructions included with each kit.

  1. Microprocessor
  2. Motors
  3. Sensors and displays
  4. Mobility
  5. Instructions

Robotics Kits for High School Showdown: the Brains

In my previous comparison review The 4 Most Affordable Robot Kits, all 4 kits featured brains that were pretty much the same.  Each pack contained an Arduino UNO clone.  But this group of robot kits has a lot more variety in the brains department.

BrickPi

The first robot kit for students– the cleverly named BrickPi by Dexter Industries– features a Raspberry Pi microcontroller.  Raspberry Pi is the second most popular microcontroller for robots behind Arduino.  The only problem with Raspberry Pi is that it’s not really a “true” microcontroller– it’s more like a hackable mini-computer.  You don’t have to know much about how robot hardware works, since the most interesting components (motors, shields, etc.) are already set up for you when you buy the BrickPi kit.  That’s good if you want to jump straight to programming– but it’s also bad if you’re trying to learn how robots really work.

Brains: good

Raspberry-Pi-vs-Arduino
The Raspberry Pi has a ton of built-in hardware: two video outs, an ethernet cable connection and a 3.5mm audio jack.

The Official Arduino Starter Kit

The brain included in the next kit– Arduino– has been imitated countless times.  But that’s exactly what its creators wanted to happen.  All Arduino microcontrollers are open source.  That means that anyone who downloads the plans to build an Arduino microcontroller can immediately start manufacturing clones– and many companies have done just that.  If you buy the official starter kit, though, you can sleep well at night knowing that you’ve supported Arduino’s noble cause.  The brain that comes with the Arduino Starter Kit is an authentic Arduino UNO.  It was manufactured and put together in Arduino’s home country, Italy.  The Arduino UNO isn’t my personal favorite Arduino microcontroller– I prefer the Arduino Mega 2560.  However, the UNO is a nice, well-crafted robot brain that’s powerful enough to handle most basic Arduino robot projects.

Brains: excellent

SunFounder Crawling Quadruped Robot Kit

The third kit actually has two brains.  Both of the microcontrollers included in this kit are Arduino Nano knockoffs.  But they actually work just as well as the real thing.  One Nano is contained in the body of the crawler robot itself and the other goes in the joystick remote controller.  The Nano works exactly like a typical Arduino microcontroller, only it’s much smaller, significantly cheaper and it has much less RAM and memory.

Verdict: good

Makeblock Educational Starter Robot Kit

Our fourth and final kit’s brain is quite unique.  The Makeblock Me Orion microcontroller is basically a modified version of the Arduino UNO.  The big difference between the Me Orion and the Arduino UNO is that instead of connecting modules and circuits using good old fashioned 22 gauge wires, all you have to do is pop them into the one of its 8 built-in ports.  The upside is that connecting modules and sensors is a whole lot easier.  The downside is that you’re stuck using Makeblock components.

Brains: good

Best brains: Official Arduino Starter Kit

Robotics Kits for High School Showdown: the Motors

A robot without a motor is just a lump of metal that can make fast calculations.  Let’s see what each kit offers in the way of robot muscle.

BrickPi

Unfortunately, BrickPi doesn’t come with any motors at all.  To get those, you have to buy the Lego Mindstorms robot creation kit.  The Mindstorms kit is quite pricey.  But it does come with 3 nifty, nearly indestructible servo motors.

Motors: mediocre

makeblock-motor-reviewThe Official Arduino Starter Kit

The Arduino does come with two motors– a small servo motor and a small DC motor.  Those motors are fine for general experimentation purposes.  But to make an advanced robot, you’re going to need more power and a dedicated motor shield.

Motors: mediocre

SunFounder Crawling Quadruped Robot Kit

Now here’s a robot kit with some serious muscle.  With SunFounder’s Quadruped Robot Kit you get 12 servo motors to play with and a nice quality motor control board to keep them all in sync.  If you ever get bored of the Quadruped, you can use the 12 servos to make all kinds of different types of robots.

Motors: excellent

Makeblock Educational Starter Robot Kit

The Makeblock kit has a nice pair of DC motors that are capable of reaching 185RPMs.  Each motor only requires 6V of electricity– not bad.

Motors: good

Best motors: SunFounder

Robotics Kits for High School Showdown: Sensors and Displays

It’s fascinating to observe the way a machine looks at reality.  Sensors help your robot understand and move around in the 3 dimensional world that we live in.  Let’s take a look at what kind of sensors you’ll find in each of these 4 student robotics kits.

BrickPi

No sensors come with the Lego-compatible BrickPi kit.  So In order to make a robot using the BrickPi, you have to get Lego Mindstorms.  The Mindstorms Lego kit only comes with two somewhat basic sensors: a color/light sensor and a touch sensor.  The good thing about Mindstorms sensors is that they can take a lot of abuse.  But the bad thing is that their functionality is somewhat limited.

Sensors and displays: good

The Official Arduino Starter Kit
arduino-starter-kit-review

 The Arduino kit comes equipped with an impressive array of basic sensors.  It’s got:

  • 6 light sensors (photoresistors)
  • a temperature sensor
  • a tilt sensor
  • 20 or so different multicolored LED lights.

The Arduino kit is also the only kit on this list that comes with a readout that can display letters and numbers.

Sensors and displays: excellent

SunFounder Crawling Quadruped Robot Kit

Unfortunately, the Quadruped bot that you can make with this kit is totally deaf, dumb and blind.  The only thing it does is respond to its wireless remote control joystick.  Of course, you can easily add sensors to the bot once you get it crawling.  But if you want to do that, you’re going to have to go shopping for robot sensors yourself.  None are included with this kit.  

Sensors and displays: poor

Makeblock Educational Starter Robot Kit

The Makeblock starter robot kit only comes with one sensor.  But, it’s a good one: the Me Ultrasonic Sensor.  If you’ve already read my free guide to robot building (How to Make a Robot: the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide), you probably already know how much I love ultrasonic those.  It’s just so cool to watch a robot use echolocation to find its way around your house.  

Sensors and displays: good

Best sensors: two way tie between Arduino and Makeblock

Robotics Kits for High School Showdown: Mobility

BrickPi
robot-student-kit-walking

Without Lego Mindstorms, the BrickPi isn’t going anywhere.  But with the Mindstorms kit, you experiment with all different locomotion styles.  You can build a tank style robot with tracks, a snake-like robot that squirms across the floor or a four-legged robot beast that walks around on all fours like a dog.  And with the BrickPi providing the brainpower, you can get those crazy robotic animals to do some pretty amazing things.

Mobility: good

The Official Arduino Starter Kit

The Arduino kit comes with a few basic motors– but no wheels, legs or tentacles.

Mobility: poor

SunFounder Crawling Quadruped Robot Kit

The Quadruped spider bot creeps around slowly.  But it sure is interesting to watch it move.  Check out the video below to watch the Quadruped mimic an actual spider.  The resemblance is quite uncanny.

Mobility: excellent

Makeblock Educational Starter Robot Kit

There are two ways to configure the robot you can make with this kit.  If you want a robot that can handle rough terrain, you can attach the tank treads.  But if you want a robot that’s a little bit more nimble, you can go with the 3 wheel configuration.

Mobility: very good

Best mobility: 2-way tie between Makeblock and SunFounder

Robotics Kits for High School Showdown: Instructions

A robot kit for teenagers should come with an instruction manual that explains everything in detail.  Let’s take a closer look to see how these four kits compare when it comes to documentation.

robot-instructions-kitsBrickPi

Dexter Industries has a tutorial video that shows how to set up BrickPi, but it’s out of date.  However, the written instructions on the Dexter Industries website are well written and easy to follow.

Instructions: good

The Official Arduino Starter Kit

The Arduino Starter Kit comes with a very detailed, easy-to-read manual that explains not only what to do but why to do it.  There are also plenty of Arduino fan created video tutorials for how to complete each project in the book, just in case you need extra help.

Instructions: excellent

SunFounder Crawling Quadruped Robot Kit

SunFounder took the time to produce an 8 part series that explains how to build the Quadruped bot.  The video instructions are super easy to follow and show you exactly what to do to get the robot up and running.

Instructions: excellent

Makeblock Educational Starter Robot Kit

Assembling the Makeblock starter bot is easy.  Plus, Makeblock’s colorful visual programming interface Scratch makes creating Arduino IDE sketches almost as easy as playing a game of Tetris.  Unfortunately, the support literature that’s listed on the Makeblock site isn’t very helpful at all.  Customer support is okay, but not amazing.  Luckily, the people that hangout at the Makeblock community forums are quite friendly and helpful.

Instructions: good

Best instructions: two-way tie between Arduino and Sunfounder

Which One Is the Best Robotics Kit for High School Teenagers?

 

 

All four kits are quite good.  Before I reveal my personal favorite of the group, here’s a quick list of each robotics kit’s pros and cons.

Not quite advanced enough

BrickPi+
Price Disclaimer

I like how creative you can get with BrickPi in terms of mobility if you have Mindstorms.  It’s possible to build all kinds of different cool robots with BrickPi– robotic snakes, dogs, and millipedes are just a few options.  However, I’m personally not a big fan of BrickPi’s Raspberry Pi based brain.  I think most students would be better off starting with an Arduino based robot kit.  Unless you’re a total Lego fanatic, BrickPi is probably not the best choice.

Needs more sensors

SunFounder’s crawling quadruped kit is quite cool.  If I had to pick a runner up, that would be the one I’d choose.  The instructions you get with the quadruped kit are excellent and the accompanying videos show you exactly what to do.  The only problem is that it doesn’t come with any sensors.

Great instructions, not enough components

The official Arduino starter kit is quite nice.  With it you get a nice array of sensors as well as a very well-written instructional guide.  However, the kit doesn’t have enough parts to make a full-featured robot.  Another problem with the Arduino kit is that it contains a ton of tiny components that are easy to lose and break.

The all-around best robotics kit for high school students

In my opinion, the Makeblock Starter Robot Build Kit is the best robot building kit for students.  In particular, I love the Scratch programming software.  It makes programming in Arduino IDE so much easier without dumbing it down.  I also like the fact that the Makeblock kit comes with an ultrasonic sensor.  Additionally, the fact that you can set the robot up in two different ways is also a nice perk.  Initially, I didn’t know what to think about the modified Arduino UNO board that you get with this kit.  But the fact that you don’t need to use jumper wires with it could come in handy in a classroom environment.

About Alex Munkachy

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