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Review: Makeblock mBot

A review of the mBot robot kit by Makeblock, including unboxing/first impressions. Further parts will review assembly, programming and use.

Unboxing Video:

https://youtu.be/4EzYYkSubco

 

Thanks again to Franciscodr for giving me the opportunity to review another great product - This time, the mBot robot kit by Makeblock!

I was going to wait until I had completed my WiPy review in full before cracking open this one, but seeing as I'm waiting on some components I couldn't resist opening it up!

I will be editing the linked unboxing video very soon (complete with Francisco's LMR intro etc), and uploading to youtube so it can be embedded.

Unboxing

There was a slight element of sadness when I received my mBot. Peter, the wonderful chap at Makeblock who had arranged the sending off my mBot, had informed me that the second mBot i was to receive had been held at Chinese customs along with the extra items such as the LED matrix, used as a face, and an expression pack. As a robotics kit these may be great; but as a drugs mule it turns out they aren't so great :-)

As shown in the video this is a well packaged kit. A magnetic lid, and a tough carboard box which withstood everything the DHL courier threw at it with minimal denting :-)

The kit is sandwiched in two layers of foam; top layer with the chassis, motors and the plug in modules with everything else underneath.

The manual is nice; clear and concise. All info in there is also available on their site, with other examples being made available all the time.

 

Assembly

8 minutes, and it was ready to rock! Makeblock claim that it takes 10 minutes to assemble, however if assembling with your child I would give a good 15-20. Still, not long at all!

The kit is really easy to put together; bolt lengths/sizes are clearly different so no chance of putting the wrong scews in the wrong places. the use of RJ-25 cables to connect the main board and the peripherals make it really quick and easy too, even for children. The battery holder is scured in place with velcro, meaning that it can be removed and swapped/refilled easily enough. There is a JST connector on board for using a lipo instead; if this can be recharded via the USB cable that would be agreat touch! I will have to find out :-)

 

First Impressions

At a first glance I am really impressed with the kit; simple assembly, a great finish and plenty of support online (not that you'd need it!). My only concern is it's open frame and exposed connections could leave it vulnerable to damage should it fall/be dropped.

In terms of it's target audience I couldn't stop making a comparison to chickenparmi's PopPet robot; both offer the same type of platform, and are programmable via the same means (Scratch and the arduino IDE). I was very keen to see what similarities and differences exist between mBot and PopPet, and see how well one of our very own user's effort stands up against the offerings of a company such as Makeblock. Luckily for me, so did chickenparmi - a PopPet kit is on it's way to me to review alongside the mBot!

Look out for mBot vs PopPet - coming soon to a website near you :-)

 

Use

So far use has been a dream! Preprogrammed out of the box, there is an android app to use if you don't want to use the include remote. Not having a battery for the remote I opted to download the controller - good move!:

The control app gave access to a really smooth remote control function, an accelerometer-based control, and triggers things like the onboard buzzer and LEDs and also allows you to switch it to a Line following mode and an autonomous mode.

The figure-of-eight map that comes with mBot didn't work as well as they planned; the creases in it from being folded meant that mBot kept sticking on the same loop, and not trainsitioning to the second loop. I am going to try creating a different track with a marker to see how it fairs on a flatter map.

One thing that let's the app down for me is no scope for expansion. The board has two spare ports to connect other modules to (things like LED matrixes and other quirky little add-ons), but I can't find anywhere in the app to take advantage of those if they were connected. I'm not sure how the individual modules connect, but it would be nice if the app could somehow recognise what attachments it currently has and presenting a related function in the app. That being said, the app nails the features it does have.

Programming/Overall

I havent yet had time to tinker with programming the mBot via the Scratch-based program that can be downloaded from Makeblock or the Arduino IDE; I've had too much fun larking about with it in its pre-programmed state! :-)

I will aim to have a play over the weekend, and will reserve my overall summary until I have done so.

As it stands though - definitely worth a look if your are looking at introducing robotics to a kid or even a classroom of kids. Even as a big kid I must say I have enjoyed playing with it a great deal! Once I have finished reviewing it I think it may have to employ it at work :-)

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Nice review!

Hope you can add a video for us to show the mBot&mBlock!

Dont worry buddy - unboxing video is being added today, and then will do an mBlock one tonight :-)