Tune in each month for a heads-up on
where to get all of your “robotics
resources” for the best prices!
Robots and kids go together like
bacon and eggs, peaches and
cream, resistors and capacitors.
Thanks to low-cost construction kits
— and not to mention popular
movies that glamorize automatons
— more and more children are
exploring the world of robots.
And that’s not a bad thing.
Robotics encompasses multiple
disciplines, including mechanical
programming, electronics, even
human psychology. In all, it’s a
great field to be interested in,
because there are so many options
for further study and exploration.
In this column, we’ll review
some of the kits, books, and other
material available that are either
expressly designed to motivate
children in learning about robotics,
or are readily adaptable to a
child-age audience because of their
design, support documentation,
or other features.
Let’s Make a Robot!
Building a robot can be a time-consuming affair, requiring hours of
sawing, drilling, grinding, soldering,
and programming. Many kids simply
don’t have the attention span to
wait that long before seeing results,
so for the typical child a ready-to-go
kit is the best option. Ideally, the kit
should include all the mechanical
and electronic components to make
a functional robot capable of at least
rudimentary actions, such as reacting
to light or following a black line on a
white piece of paper. Fortunately,
there are many such kits available, at
prices starting at about $20. Of
course, the more sophisticated the
robot and its abilities, the more the
robot will cost.
At the lower end of the scale is
the single-function kit, requiring at
least mechanical assembly. By
“single-function,” it means just that.
These ‘bots are made to do
one thing and encompass no
intelligence or programming. For
example, the robot may merely
react to sound, or follow a line.
The OWI-9910 Weasel is an
example. Two photo detectors on
the underside of the robot detect a
line drawn on the ground and two
touch switches on its body give it
a simple obstacle avoidance
Some robot kits are designed for
remote control by a human. The
least expensive of this breed uses a
wired tether. You steer the robot by
flicking a set of switches. For
instance, there’s the OWI-9280
Soccer Pro kit. It’s a simple wheelbased vehicle with a two switch
wired remote. With a couple of
these, your child and a friend can
play miniature robotic soccer,
pushing a ball around a small field.
There are many other single-function robot kits, and the OWI
product line is perhaps the most
complete in this category. The kits
are available from several retailers
(a couple of the main online stores
are listed in the Sources), and are
grouped by skill level. These basic
mechanical-only kits comprise the
least expensive of the lot. Next, are
the kits that require electronics of
some kind come with complete and
ready-to-go circuit boards, though a
few models are available with the
electronics also in kit form. These are
handy for learning about soldering
and electronics construction.
For purely mechanical
construction, there’s the robotics
and educational products from
Tamiya. Most of these are not
found in local area hobby stores,
but are common enough online,
especially from robotics-specific
retailers. We provide a short list of
sources for these, as well.
Next up the ladder are fully
programmable kits (typical price
range is $120-$175), where you
develop and download a script for
the robot’s action from a personal
computer. Once programmed, the
robot is self-sufficient and
autonomous. Probably the most
well-known kit of this type is the
Parallax BOE-Bot ($160), which
consists of a metal chassis and
hardware, twin servo motors and
wheels, and an already-assembled
electronics board (the BOE Board),
complete with the Parallax BASIC
The BOE Board is connected to
a host computer via serial or USB.
SERVO 10.2008 73