Who said learning STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) had to be boring? With the emerging trend of getting kids involved in STEM at an early age, a number of companies have introduced robots that explore these educational concepts through play. Here are 10 STEM robotics kits that your kid (toddler to teen) will absolutely enjoy.
Ozobot is a tiny robot that stands no more than two inches tall. Kids can program Ozobot by color codes drawn on paper or tablet, and each color code activates a specific command. For older kids, Ozobot provides an app for block-based programming similar to Google’s Blockly. The biggest advantage to Ozobot is that no device is needed, and in fact, kids can program it with just a piece of paper and few colored markers. This little programmable robot costs $60, a reasonable price when compared to other robots.
When Sphero isn’t designing Star Wars’ BB-8 droid, the company is tinkering with SPRK, a programmable robot ball that rolls around. Sphero SPRK connects to kid-friendly technology like smartphones and tablets via Bluetooth and can be programmed using an app. The app is simple enough for kids ages eight and up to grasp as it features blocks of “code” rather than confusing text. For teens, there is text-based coding as well. Sphero SPRK can be programmed to roll around, light up, and respond to its environment.
In addition to the physical product, Sphero has included a comprehensive curriculum that outlines activities and core concepts. Sphero SPRK works with iOS and Android devices and is priced at $130. We have a full, hands-on review of Sphero SPRK if you’d like to find out more, and you can check it out here.
Dash and Dot
Built for toddlers, Dash and Dot are two little robots with big functionality. The two robots tell a story via a smartphone and tablet app, and they disguise the programming as interactive games. Programming Dash and Dot is simple. Kids connect blocks of code together to form programs that Dash and Dot can run. Basic computer programming concepts such as loops and conditionals are included in the app and are presented in a colorful and visual way that kids can easily understand.
Dash and Dot are similar in design but function differently. Dash rolls around on two wheels plus a caster and has a motorized head. Buttons and sensors enable Dash to sense its surroundings. Dot, on the other hand, doesn’t move at all. The little robot has no wheels but communicates with Dash (or just keeps the other kid busy).
Dash and Dot work with iPhone and Android devices. We’ve written a full review of each robot, and our verdict is to just buy Dash. There are also accessories that you can attach to Dash and Dot, and they make learning by play all the more fun.
If you’re looking for a more DIY approach, Kamigami Robots is the perfect kit. This origami-inspired robotics kit lets kids of all age groups build and program their very own robot. The kit comes with a few flat pieces of plastic and a circuit board. The pieces are folded to form the robot’s body and the circuit board provides the brains and power. Included with the kit is a free app for iOS devices (Android in beta), and this allows for remote control and basic programming.
We recently tested Kamigami Robots, so feel free to read our full review. Kamigami Robots are available on their website in red, green, and blue for $99 each.
Cubetto teaches hands-on coding for ages three and up. The wooden robot doesn’t require a smart device, and instead, uses command blocks (forward, left, right) to execute programs. Kids can create programs for Cubetto by placing various blocks on a board, and Cubetto will run the program by moving around its playmat. This is, by far, the most intuitive robot for younger kids. Primo Toys is selling the Cubetto playset for $295.
Fisher Price has developed its own STEM toy. The aptly named “Code-a-Pillar” is a segmented caterpillar that can be programmed to slither around. Each segment of the caterpillar features a command, and each segment can be switched around to create programs. Once set, the Code-a-Pillar will run the program and move around. Code-a-Pillar is now available on Amazon for $35.
LEGO Mindstorms is a fantastic robotics kit for older kids. It combines the expandable LEGO bricks with a powerful robotic “brain” and allows for endless projects. LEGO Mindstorms EV3, the latest version of the kit, can be programmed by tablet or computer. The kit connects via Bluetooth and uses a comprehensive programming environment based on LabVIEW. Anything from robot cars to humanoids to dinosaurs can be built with LEGO Mindstorms EV3. LEGO has the Mindstorms EV3 kit up for grabs for a hefty $350 on Amazon.
LEGO WeDo 2.0
For second to fourth-grade elementary students, LEGO has designed a small robotics kit named WeDo 2.0. Included in the kit are LEGO bricks, motors, and sensors. Kids can build LEGO robots and then program them using an app-enabled programming interface. WeDo 2.0 is a simplified version of the Mindstorms kit mentioned above, and it differs in programming and price. The programming is drag-and-drop and the price tag is a cheaper $160. Parents and educators can pick one up either from LEGO’s website or Amazon.
For future engineers looking for the more advanced robotics kit, there’s EZ-Robot. This kit is available in various robotic forms, and each has their own robotic character. Kids can build the six-legged hexapod, the bipedal humanoid, and more. Each kit comes with its own set of servos, wires, sensors, and brains, and each kit is programmable by free software. EZ-Robots’ parts snap together without the need for tools, enabling quick robot construction.
Sparki is a more advanced robotics kit built by ArcBotics. The two-wheeled robot is constructible, open-source, and Arduino-compatible meaning Sparki can be built using its included parts and programmed using visual blocks or actual code. Sparki is geared towards elementary kids and above, and the kit includes block-based programming for younger kids and C/C++ programming for older kids. Electronic components are included and can be put together to make Sparki avoid obstacles, follow lines, and grab objects. Sparki is available for $150 and includes over 100 free lesson plans.