Mbot from Makeblock is here! This robot is an educational robot from a company in Shenzhen, China. It’s not a new concept but the price at $49, is really low. We purchased a similar robot from Parallax robotics for around $150 and on top of that you have to provide your own Arduino Mega board. The difference definitely is in the price.
It is a simple robot with that comes only with 2 motors, a ultrasonic sensor and a line following sensors with a in-build Arduino Uno. To top it off, they included a RF serial module that allows you to remove the USB cable if you want to run the robot untethered. This is enough for elementary robotics education with the basic features but you can go to the Makerblock site to purchase a couple of addon sensors but the limit is in the number of IOs on the uno block. That is where the Parallax robot will be better.
In terms of software, It’s riding on the success of Scratch graphic user interface that makes it easy for children to program their robots. It’s widely used in the education community in projects like Hummingbird Robotics Kit, and basically any robotics kit that uses the Arduino platform. The software is easy to use and you are able to generate arduino code and this is a useful feature for student who want to graduate from visual programming to C programming.
My son assembled the robot in 2 hours and we started to program the robot almost immediately, since he’s quite familiar with the scratch interface. We started with keyboard tele-control and it was a better experience then the Parallax robot since the robot is now untethered. We moved on to line following with the online instructions provided on the website. The Makeblock site provides some educational materials and video that the children can watch to learn. It is certainly work in progress but I am still amazed at the price. At this price, we are slowly getting into the mass market with robotics.
I personally work on mobile manipulators in the office and this mobile base can’t really do much but the future is coming as sensors get cheaper. I can’t wait to put a Microsoft kinect or mobile phone on this to program it to do some human interaction that would be fun for the kids as well.
Great work and I hope that more interfaces to this platform will be developed soon.