Top 5 Programmable Robot Kits for Kids

Learn new skills by building a robot

mBot Ranger Transformable STEM robot
Nervous Bird, one of the many robots that can be built with the mBot Ranger robot kit. Courtesy of Makeblock Co., Ltd.

Programmable robot kits for kids are a great way to introduce your children to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Programmable robot kits can be a fun and educational experience for just about anyone, regardless of age.

Working with these robotic kits can foster a sense of accomplishment, and inspire the mind as kids work out new ways to program the robots to perform a desired task. Programmable robot kits teach many skills besides the obvious ones, such as learning basic programming. They also help hone skills used to assemble the robot from a collection of parts into a working device waiting for the builder's command. Assembling a robot helps show that patience and fortitude outweigh the instant gratification of a pre-assembled gadget. The skills learned in assembly come in very handy when it's time to customize the robot to meet a new challenge.

5 Programmable Robots You Should Consider

Our list of programmable robots concentrates on kits, so some assembly is going to be required. Robotic kits are a great way to learn about multiple aspects of robotics, including design, assembly, and programming, and modifying a robot to meet new goals.

The kits are appropriate for just about any age, though there are some considerations for the very young. Some robot kits require soldering a few electronic components, and while soldering is a good skill to learn, all but one of the robots in our list can be assembled without pulling out a soldering iron.

Other considerations are the type of programming language that is used. Graphics-based languages can be easier for those just starting out, while text-based languages can provide more opportunity to expand on the robot's capabilities.

Lego Mindstorms EV3 EV3RSTORM
EV3RSTORM is just one of the many robots that can be built using the EV3 brick. Courtesy of Lego Group

LEGO MINDSTORMS has been the leader in programmable robot kits for quite a while. As you might imagine, combining all of the available LEGO brick types with the EV3 brick, which contains an ARM9 processor and input and output ports, along with a sufficiently large collection of sensors, motors, and other components, allows you to build 17 LEGO-designed robotic creatures, as well as all the additional creations you can come up with from your imagination.

No soldering is required, and programming your creations is performed with a drag-and-drop programming language that allows you to assemble programming blocks and palettes on the screen to bring your robots to life.

Recommended age: 10 and up More »

mBot Ranger
mBot Ranger is a transformable STEM robotics kit. Courtesy of Makeblock Co., Ltd

The mBot Ranger is a STEM educational robot designed to help children explore and learn about robotics; it's also just plain fun. The mBot Ranger makes use of precision metal components and a pre-assembled Arduino controller board to build three different robots; Land Raider, a tank-like rover; Nervous Bird; a two-wheeled self balancing robot; and Dashing Raptor, a three-wheeled racer.

The mBot Ranger can be programmed using Scratch, a graphical programming language that allows you to build up complex programs by dragging programming blocks into place. You can also delve into more advanced C language-based programming using the Arduino controller.

Makeblock includes all the necessary tools in the box, so you won’t find yourself running to the hardware store just to complete the assembly.

Recommended age: 8 and up More »

Boe-Bot Robot kit
Boe_Bot is a three-wheeled advanced robot kit with a built-in breadboard to customize the electronics. Courtesy of Parallax

The Boe-Bot robot kits are simple in concept; it’s a basic three-wheeled, roll-about robot. But in actuality, it's an advanced robotics platform that allows for 50 modifications to the robot, including building new sensors using the included breadboard, a method of wiring up circuit elements that doesn't require soldering.

The Boe-Bots are available in different configurations based on the control board included, either an Arduino or a BASIC Stamp. Both include the ability to be controlled using multiple programing languages. The Boe-Bot robots are well designed and well documented, with detailed explanations of each major component as well as each sensor. The electronic breadboard lets you easily design and wire up new components, and there's a large collection of add-on products that work with Boe-Bot.

Recommended age: Boe-Bot is an advanced robotics kit targeted at those 13 and up More »

Rokit Smart
Rokit Smart is an 11-in1 robot kit ideal for learning about robotics and engineering. Courtesy of Robolink

Rokit Smart is an 11-in-1 robotics kit that includes motors, circuit boards, frame components, and microcontrollers, as well as the tools you'll need to assemble any of the 11 robots that can be created.

Although the number of components and the amount of assembly may seem daunting, the online guides, tutorials, and videos that walk you through creating any of the 11 robots make the process easy enough for most grade school kids, with a touch of adult help.

Rokit Smart is a good choice for those just starting out, with a desire to learn about all aspects of robotics, including mechanical design and assembly, electronics, and programming.

Recommended age: 9 and up More »

Create 2 with PrimeSense vision system
Create 2 from iRobot is a robotics platform you can use to build your robots on. Courtesy of iRobot

If the iRobot name is familiar, it may be because the same company makes the popular Roomba vacuum cleaner. The Create 2 robots are remanufactured Roombas sans the vacuum.

An iRobot Create 2 can use either an Arduino controller board or a Raspberry Pi-based controller for advanced robotics projects. Even without the controller boards, the Create 2 has all of the built-in sensors and basic programmable controls found in a basic Roomba vac. It can even make use of most Roomba 600 series accessories.

The Create 2's real robotic strength is as a platform for building on and customizing. iRobot provides online projects that can be completed, as well as a gallery where you can submit your creations to share with others.

Create 2 is an advanced robotics kit; it comes with just the bare essentials, requiring you to design and build your projects from scratch.  More »

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