Cheap Robotics Kits that Offer Low-Cost Education Platforms for Mechanics and Programming Basics

Cheap Robotics Kits that Offer Low-Cost Education Platforms for Mechanics and Programming Basics

As more and more research comes out about the positive effects of robots on a student’s education, instructors and parents alike are jumping on board. Many studies have shown that from as young as four and five years old, children can begin to experiment with basic robot models that change the way their brain thinks about math and science.

For elementary, middle, and high school students, these benefits only grow at an exponential rate. So whether students are exposed to robots at home or in the classroom, they’re already starting themselves up for success. When they learn with a hands-on approach, students feel like they’re in charge of their learning, in a fun way.

One setback for parents and schools with a limited budget is the price tag attached to some robotics kits. Likewise, around the world, especially in developing countries, many students at the high school and university level do not have the funds to access robotics that make such a large impact on STEM learning.

However, there are many initiatives to develop cheap robotics kits that offer low-cost education platforms for mechanics and programming basics both commercially in the United States and worldwide.

Teachers and parents are on the same page. Robotics can do wonders for kids’ academic and communicative skills.

So where’s the best place to start searching for your cheap robotics kit?



What to Look for in Cheap Robot Kits

Many schools face a dilemma over equipping students with the science skills they need but also adhering to a strict budget. Traditional robots can break the bank, but innovators in the field are coming up with basic, affordable modules to turn the industry upside down.

High costs often come from expensive materials used and top quality electronic components. Leaders in the industry are looking for new ways to use materials that are both effective and affordable. One such project is taking place at the MIT media lab where researchers are using programmable bricks that allow for design and programming learning. 

One group of scientists presented an innovative robot based on simple interface function between Input, Output, and Control. The material used is simple, a plastic or acrylic sheet. In total, this cheap robotics kit has a diameter of 4 inches, a height of 2.5 inches and a weight of about 400 grams. The energy module is made up of a 1.5V 2300mAh battery, the movement module uses a motor driver, and the electronic circuits use a breadboard or protoboard. The small, lightweight, cheap materials make this robot prototype a competitive option for schools, especially in communities with a limited science budget but the desire to see their kids succeed in STEM.

A series of robots for kids have focused on products for under $200. Robots range from two-wheeled mini-drones to a circular robot that moves based on the same motions as the Roomba 600 Series vacuum cleaner, or a two-wheeled speedy vehicle that shoots along at 4.5 mph.

American schools hoping to implement robots in their standard STEM curriculum can apply for grants to equip classrooms with these types of robotics.

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Efforts to Lower Robotics Education on an International Scale

But the push to get robots in the classroom isn’t only taking place in the United States. Europe is making strides as well to give more access to more people.

Scientific communities in the EU realized the exorbitant costs of producing small and medium-sized robots are often too expensive as commercial robots, too big for some projects, and not always easily adaptable to tasks in small shops.

That’s why the EU-funded the SMErobot project to develop cheaper, easier-to-interact-with robots. The project is headed by Martin Hägele of Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA, which also develops blueprints for major European manufacturers, and builds on technicalities used in robotics software.

As Hägele points out, the SMErobot project has been a major stepping stone in putting Europe on the map as a leader in affordable robot manufacturing. In particular, scientists participating in the project have made headway with goals like human-robot interaction, sensor integration, and automatic robot program generation. Other major attributes include ease of installation, human-aware robot, flexible grasp technique, 3D modeler scanning, and software to estimate the life-cycle of new automation projects.

As part of the next big endeavor, Hägele’s team will take on another project called Hägele SMErobotics, which is meant to teach workers to interact with robots to complete tasks, like assembling finished products in a team effort.

Similar initiatives are taking place in Africa. The African Robotics Network (AFRON) of Sub-Saharan Africa is also making strides to bring robotics to students who would not otherwise get the chance. As the program assessed which features would be most important tin developing their robot program, they narrowed it down to six categories: affordability (competition price tags ranging from $20-100), kit type (open source commercial platform), platform features (processing power built-in to the microcontroller), software development (supports high-level programming languages), educational materials (detailed tutorials for teachers), and maintenance (preference for low-maintenance systems).

AFRON included 10 robots in its assessment of each based on kit type, pricing, processing, sensors, deployment, development, educational material, and maintenance. All robots ranged from a price of $9 to $130.

On a global scale, science and educators realize the need to inform students about robotics through regular practice and problem-solving in our ever more digital world.

The sky is the limit when it comes to integrating simple and complex robots in the classroom.

As robotics researchers around the world have come to discover, it’s more than possible to make robots happen for students of all financial backgrounds with creativity and clever use of funds.

With so many opportunities at their fingertips, there’s no reason for students not to get involved in robotics that could take them to the height of their career, or halfway around the world engaging in some of the most cutting-edge technology of our time.

Derek Capo