Robot Toys Help Expand STEM Education

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Robot Toys Help Expand STEM Education

The evolution of learning toys is a long road, littered with toys that introduced children to subjects and ideas that, in the least, provided education and fun and, at best, laid out stepping stones of inspiration toward careers later in life. From the early 20th-Century engineering toys of Erector sets, Tinkertoys, and Lego®, to the late-century rudimentary programming of robotic toys, such as the Big Trak or 2-XL, products have been developed to grow and adapt with the times.

Today, with the trend of STEM-related (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers expanding, new learning toys are rapidly advancing to inspire a new generation—and hopefully have some fun along the way. We’ll go over some of the latest learning toys, talking about the features and capabilities that touch on expanding STEM concepts.

DJI RoboMaster S1 Educational Robot

Makeblock mBot

An entry-level robotic kit for ages 8+, the mBot is a small robot that leans heavily on expansion and customization. You can create the standard mBot using the helpful 3D building instructions in the Makeblock app for iOS and Android devices, and a screwdriver is as complicated as the construction gets. Once put together, your kids are sure to note the cute “face” that is made from the clever cutout in the chassis, and placement of the ultrasonic sensor board.

Makeblock mBot STEM Educational Bluetooth Robot Kit

The expandability comes in the form of four expansion ports that can connect to more than 100 kinds of electronic modules, compatibility with parts from optional add-on packs, and its compatibility with “building bricks” (*cough* Lego®). Some add-on packs include the Interactive Light & Sound pack, which includes light and sound sensors, and the Servo Pack, which includes a small servo to provide added movement. Each pack lets you create three different mBot robot designs.

Makeblock mBot Add-On Pack - Servo Pack

Two main wheels drive the mBot and kids can pilot it manually with a remote, via the app, or have it drive autonomously, using line-follow and obstacle avoidance modes. Children can further customize the mBot’s abilities via block-based programming. The education ramps up as kids learn basic coding and logic concepts, which Makeblock enhances with the Blocky app. Blocky “gamifies” the experience of programming through 60 different levels, as Mr. Panda guides them through coding step-by-step.

UBTECH Robotics JIMU Robots

Where the mBot looked truly DIY with a little exposed wiring and circuit boards, the JIMU robots are more polished and toy-like. Also, there’s no main robot with add-on packs. Each JIMU “kit” lets you make 1-3 robots. Tools aren’t needed, as each kit is built via snap-together parts—sometimes hundreds of parts, so building is a huge educational aspect to the JIMU system. Don’t worry though, because kids can be guided through building each bot via the JIMU app for iOS and Android devices. Thankfully, kids can go DIY and make their own creations if they want to get creative.

UBTECH Robotics JIMU Robot AstroBot Kit

JIMU robots are quite colorful when built and the unique looks of the bots vary wildly between kits. Most kits include multiple servo motors, which equates to more movement and interactivity. Kids have two different methods of breathing life into their bots. PRP (Pose, Record, Play) lets children make the bots move through physical manipulation—think stop-motion animation. Through the app, the servos are relaxed, then kids move parts, record that pose, then repeat. At the end, they can play back the motion and movements they created. The app also lets kids use Blocky coding to program specific instructions and conditions, putting the bots through simple to complex sequences of their own design.

To give an idea of what is possible to create with JIMU, here’s a rundown of some of the kits. The BuilderBots Kit is ideal for kids who love construction toys. They can make the GrabberBot and DigBot, which can realistically grab and scoop up objects. The AstroBot Kit lets you make three space-inspired robots: the AstroBot (think WALL-E) with grabber arms, Rover, and walking Astron. The TankBot Kit lets you make a working tank with grab-and-lift arms and heavy-duty treads. These are just a few of the kits available, and they are all recommended for kids ages 8+.

UBTECH Robotics JIMU Robot Builderbots Kit

DJI RoboMaster S1

The RoboMaster S1 looks like a futuristic, sci-fi tank. I mean, the thing has a firing blaster on top! Seriously, once built, a 2-axis gimbal features a camera and a blaster that can fire safe, non-toxic gel beads or infrared beams for a variety of fun games and head-to-head competitions with other RoboMasters. It’s got intelligent sensing armor with LEDs that detect hits… but I digress.

DJI RoboMaster S1 Educational Robot

Out of the box, the RoboMaster must be assembled from dozens of parts. The design is modular and meant to easily fit together. When assembled, the RoboMaster is run by a high-performance M3508I motor and mecanum wheels, which feature 12 rollers on each one, letting it hug corners and even strafe laterally. At max speed, the RoboMaster can zip along at almost 8 mph!

This bulky and rugged robot teaches kids building and engineering concepts, but the highlight is in its programming support. It can be programmed with either the block-based Scratch programming language, which is suitable for ages 8 and up, or via the robust Python language, which is more suitable for high school students. So, for young kids, the RoboMaster S1 is something that can be an ongoing source of learning for years.

The RoboMaster can also provide insights into AI learning. It can recognize gestures, lines, vision markers, sounds, and people. A kid can program it to track through an obstacle course or to take a video while following a sibling riding a bike. To further help with education, DJI offers “Road to Mastery.” Project-based courses that help get kids familiar with the programming languages used with the RoboMaster. Also, RoboAcademy provides a curriculum of videos for more in-depth programming knowledge.

The Toys of Tomorrow

These are just a few of the toys and robots that can help children broaden their STEM education, while teaching them basic problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Feel free to leave us a comment below about these robots, STEM education, or how much you wish you had one of these back in the day. The Makeblock, JIMU, and RoboMaster S1 robots and accessories can be found right now at B&H.

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