The 5 Best Programmable Robot Kits for Kids of 2020

Enjoy a casual night of robot building with the whole family

Best Overall: LEGO Mindstorms EV3

What We Like
  • Especially engaging for kids who are familiar with LEGOs.

  • Programming is easy and visually oriented, offering a good intro to coding.

What We Don't Like
  • No DC charger included.

  • Lack of items, such as differential drive, makes building anything more than the featured robots difficult.

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.

Best for STEM: Makeblock mBot Ranger

What We Like
  • Advance programming knowledge with Arduino.

  • Solidly constructed with metal components.

What We Don't Like
  • Plotter needs to be secured to prevent unwanted motion.

  • Doesn’t include battery for remote.

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.

Best Without Soldering: Parallax 28832 Boe-Bot Robot Kit

What We Like
  • Encourages creativity and problem-solving with lots of modification possibilities.

  • No soldering required.

What We Don't Like
  • Younger kids will require help from an adult who has some robotics experience.

  • No batteries included.

  • Not Mac-compatible.

The Boe-Bot robot kits are simple in concept; it’s a basic three-wheeled, roll-about robot. But in reality, 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 ​programming 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.

Best Educational: Robolink Rokit Smart (11-in-1) Starter Robot Kit

What We Like
  • Challenging addition to home-schooling curriculum.

  • No soldering required.

What We Don't Like
  • No instructions included, but can be found online.

  • Programmer cable not included.

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.

Best Advanced: iRobot Roomba S9+

What We Like
  • Drive system is preassembled.

  • Create a storage bin with included 3D-printable file.

What We Don't Like
  • A bit noisy.

  • Requires assistance from an experienced adult.

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.