Although many people view robotics as an interesting topic to learn, it can seem pretty daunting when one realizes the level of complexity involved. Beginner robot kits can serve as a great introduction to robotics for kids and adults alike.
If you decide on giving a shot on robot building it may be wise to start with something really simple. Robot building does not go simpler than beginner robot kits. By using some of these the main idea of mechanics-electronics-software interaction can be grasped quite quickly.
As you understand, robot kits for kids can also serve as great educational toys. So, if you are willing to give a kid not only a toy but some knowledge and an opportunity to tamper with technology this could be the right solution.
I realize that you are eager to know which manufacturers make beginner kits and robot kits for kids, how much does they cost, what they are capable of and what can be learnt by using them. So I'll linger no longer and give you the information, read on!
Elenco is a company with more than thirty years long experience in the electronic engineering field. Luckily for robotics enthusiasts like you and me, they've gotten into designing robot kits. Elenco makes a wide array of affordable beginner robot kits.
Photo courtesy of elenco
Elenco beginner robot kits usually range in prices from 10 to 80 USD. Kits that costs around 80 USD sometimes have more than one robot included. A good example of this is Elenco titan tank and Elenco botball kits. These kits have two robots with separate remotes.
Elenco's approach to teaching things is one by one. So they have different robots that teach certain aspects of sensing. There is a robot that responds to sound, a robot that responds to light, a robot with an infrared sensor, et cetera. These robots typically cost about 10 to 20 USD.
The vast majority of Elenco's products are not released under Elenco brand name though. As far as I know, iBotz and OWI robot kits are also made by Elenco. Sometimes iBotz and OWI brands are used without any reference to Elenco. Maybe other manufacturers also make them. I'm not really sure about licensing and patent issues.
Among these robot kit brands, Elenco also manufactures electronics kits under various brands such as Snap Circuits, Funology, AmeriKit and others. However, here I'll cover only those products which are directly related to robotics.
Ibotz is a brand name under which a line of robot kits is being sold. As far as I'm aware, they are manufactured by above mentioned Elenco. On the other hand, the manuals of the Ibotz robot kits that can be found on Ibotz.com states that these kits are made by Instruments Direct limited. Go figure.
Photo courtesy of elenco
By now I'll put the manufacturer issue aside. It doesn't really matter as long as someone makes these kits. From an adult viewpoint all Ibotz kits can be regarded as beginner-level kits because none of them requires soldering.
Nevertheless, some are intended to be used for ages 8 and up and some are intended to be used for ages 14 and up. Those Ibotz robot kits that are equipped with wheels and are preprogrammed, like Ibotz Soundtracker, can be regarded as beginner-level kits. Programmable legged robot kits, like Ibotz Quadrabotz, can already be regarded as intermediate kits.
Ibotz beginner robot kits fall in an approximate price range from 30 USD to 100 USD. Relatively simple robots, like the Soundtracker, cost around 30 USD, while more sophisticated programmable kits with more than one sensor cost around 100 USD. Overall, Ibotz robot kits for kids offer a good educational quality for an affordable price tag.
Again, I'm not really sure about the designers of OWI robot kits. Maybe there is more than one manufacturer. Still, I'm pretty sure that in that case Elenco also manufactures these robot kits. As I said previously regarding Ibotz kits - this really doesn't matter as long as someone brings these kits to us.
Photo courtesy of elenco
There are more than 30 OWI robot kits. Usually these fall in beginner or intermediate skill level. OWI takes an interesting approach on this subject - there are robots that can be bought either in non-soldered or soldered robot kit versions. In this manner the same robot can serve for different purposes according to your specific needs.
Regarding OWI robot kits for kids, I can say that there is quite a choice. The prices fall in the same category where Ibotz - from 10 to 100 USD. OWI beginner kits don’t require soldering and are usually recommended for ages 8-10 and up.
Amongst robots with a usual array of sensors and possibilities, there are some quite unique additions. For example, there is a robotic arm kit and an amphibious robot kit. The good news is that these are not overly complicated, can be assembled without soldering and they are not very expensive. So they fall perfectly in the beginner level.
Also, there are solar robot kits made under OWI brand. Some of these also fall under the beginner category. These are not very complicated but we are discussing beginner robot kits here. I mean - a solar-powered grasshopper for ten bucks. Isn’t that cool?
At the end, I can say that OWI offers a broad range of affordable, fun and educating beginner robot kits. If you are willing to start exploring the vast field of robotics, or if you are interested in solar energy, some of the OWI kits could be just what you are looking for.
So the company is quite serious. Luckily for you and me, among RC kits and miniature models they also manufacture robot kits. They fall in the same price category as above mentioned brands and require no soldering. This way Tamiya robot kits can be regarded as beginner robot kits.
Tamiya robot kits let you explore various solutions of movement. There are robots that walk, gallop, move using vibration, etc. These are pretty cheap and straightforward without ability to program them. They offer a great insight in the way they move though as the parts are semi-transparent. Even the case of the gearbox is transparent which I find particularly interesting.
Along with above mentioned kits there are also some other interesting additions. Tamiya's mechanical blowfish is a swimming robot kit and Tamiya remote control rescue crawler is a robot with three pairs of threads with an exceptional ability to move on rough surfaces.
Of course they are not real rescue robots. However, they can give you some valuable insight on how threads can be used in robotics. Another noteworthy Tamiya kit is Tamiya RC robot construction kit. Using this kit you can design your own wheeled robot.
The greatest value Tamiya robot kits offer is mechanical knowledge. By building these kits you can get valuable insights on robot mechanics and possible solutions to different problems. On the other hand, you probably won't get any valuable experience in electronics or programming. Unless you hack the robots, that is.
The Parallax Scribbler is specifically designed as a beginner robot. This robot is head and sholders above most of the above mentioned kits in terms of educational value regarding programming. Although its price stands on the high end compared to beginner kits prices (around 100 USD), in my opinion it's worth it.
It has four infrared sensors - two to detect a line underneath it and two to detect obstacles. Also, it has three light sensors, some LEDs and a speaker. It can be connected to a computer using a serial port and programmed using the Scribbler Program Maker.
Scribbler Program Maker is software that lets you program the robot using graphical blocks. This is a great introduction to programming for kids. Later, it is possible to switch over to programming in BASIC. As I said, this isn't a robot kit actually. Still, the educational value is outstanding - a great robot for kids.
Ollo robot construction kits for kids are made by the same company that manufactures more sophisticated Bioloid robot kits - Robotis. Ollo kits are designed specifically for 7 to 10 year old kids. The main difference from most of the above mentioned kits is that Ollo is actually a construction set.
Photo courtesy of Robotis
Although Ollo robot kits for kids may seem somewhat similar to Lego Mindstorms, there are some major differences. Ollo kits are targeted at younger kids and they are much less sophisticated. The most sophisticated Ollo construction kit costs around 100 USD.
Talking about sophistication - Ollo kits come in three difficulty levels. The Ollo figure has no motors; it is only possible to build static figures with this kit. The Ollo action kit has a motor included; this means that it is possible to build moving things.
The third and the most sophisticated version - Ollo bug has motors, sensors, a CPU and a remote controller included. The Ollo controller - CM-100 is supported in Robotis new software - RoboPlus, so it is programmable. Using this kit, 4 bugs can be constructed, as well as almost everything else you can imagine of.
Ollo beginner robot kits for kids can serve as a fun and educational introduction to robotics. The best thing about these kits is the ability to reconfigure them. So there are chances that even the most active kids will have something to do for a while.
If you like the idea of construction kits for robot building, such as Ollo, only more sophisticated, you should check out my article on robot construction kits.
Of course, I didn't review all beginner robot kits here. There are others also and things change pretty fast nowadays. Nevertheless I believe I did review the majority of noteworthy beginner robot kits. I hope I managed to give you enough information to think about if you are willing to get one.
At the end I can say that majority of robot kits for kids cost less than 100 USD. Actually, the majority cost less than 50 USD. However, kits that hit the "high end" of beginner robot kit market usually are worth the money paid, as they offer great educational value and fun.
You can buy most of the above mentioned beginner robot kits as well as some others at Robotics Toys shop (aff link - read ad policy)!