Monday, 16 November 2015

LEGO Mindstorms EV3 vs Meccanoid - How to Choose Your Robot

They're friends really
How do you choose between the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 and Meccanoid G15 (and G15 KS) robots? This was a question from one of our readers at Tech Age Kids so I thought I'd put a post together to answer the question in detail.

We've written about the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 and Meccanoid G15 robots before so try those articles first if you want a basic introduction. They are both fun and interesting robot kits for kids but they're quite different and each will be the right choice for some families and children. If you're kids are robot crazy then you might want to acquire both over time but you'll still need to decide which one to pick first.

Update: Meccano have now released Meccanoid 2.0 and 2.0 XL the latest versions in the range. The comparison with the EV3 still stands, the new models aren't radically different but have an upgraded Mecca brain and other smaller improvements.


Construction

Both of these robots are based on well-known and loved construction toy brands. Mindstorms uses LEGO pieces and can be extended with regular and Technic pieces. Meccanoid uses plastic rather than metal pieces but is compatible with regular Meccano and uses nut and bolt construction techniques.

Both kits have an element of construction but they are quite different. Mindstorms offers several models that are fairly quick and easy to build for an experienced LEGO builder who has built kits from the Technic range (or other sets that use those pieces.)

There are lots of different models to build from Mindstorms including ones that have been shared by the community. You can buy books with further ideas.

Meccanoid is quite different. It's a big build. Expect to spend several hours even on the smaller version of the robot. It's not a very difficult build and there are videos to follow along, but it is a big build. Kids will need to have plenty of patience or a willing adult helper. Dexterity is also important for working with the small nuts and bolts.

Meccanoid also has instructions for Dinosaur models that can be built from either the G15 or G15 KS kits. It's not quick to change between models so you're likely to keep the robot in one form for a while.

Meccanoid is very new so we may well see new models from the community and from SpinMaster Meccano in the future.

Overall Impression

Mindstorms is a very techie-looking kit in black and red and lot of the models are vehicles. The use of LEGO will draw a lot of children to the EV3. The use of Missions and the ability to build cool machines will attract kids who enjoy problem solving.

Meccanoid on the other hand is a friendly-looking humanoid robot with a quirky personality and big eyes. I'd say a broader range of kids would be drawn to Meccanoid from an entertainment and fun perspective. Kids definitely interact with Meccanoid as a personality rather than just a machine.

Meccanoid, even the smaller G15 model, is much bigger than EV3 so it can appear more impressive at first glance. The G15 KS at 4 feet tall really does have the wow factor. Of course EV3 has the option to build lots of different models and you could add parts to make a bigger robot if you wanted to.

Hardware and Control

Mindstorms EV3 Meccanoid G15 (and 2.0)
Motors 2 Large and 1 Small motor 4 servos in the arms (8 in the KS model) plus 2 motors for the feet 
Other Outputs Individually programmable RGB LEDs in eyes and servos
Sensors Color Sensor, Touch Sensor, Infrared Sensor / Receiver Servos act as movement sensors. Phone camera used for motion control. Voice recognition.
Control Infrared Remote, Bluetooth, Physical Buttons. Voice, Bluetooth, Physical Buttons


Meccanoid does very well in terms of output with its servos and motors and individually programmable RGB LEDs which are very appealing.

Mindstorms does better with sensors with a range of interesting sensors included in the box.

Both platforms are extensible and you can already by a range of add on modules for EV3, an add-on servo for the Meccanoid is also available.

Functionality

Meccanoid has some interesting features with its built in commands (like Dance and High Five) and it's options for programming by physically moving the robot or using motion capture (replaced by behavior builder in 2016) to mimic a person's movement. It also tells (bad!) jokes and is fun at a birthday party. It has more built-in entertainment than Mindstorms EV3.

EV3 on the other hand currently has more educational material with it's fun Missions that come with the software.

Coding

LEGO Mindstorms has a Robot Commander app for quick and easy interaction and remote control play. It also has the EV3 Programming Software which uses drag and drop graphical coding and included 25 missions (using several different robot models) that kids can build and code their way through. This offers some structured learning which is also entertaining. For more experienced coder there are also options for programming EV3 in C, C++, Python and other languages. There are lots of third party libraries, books and tutorials.

Initially Meccanoid is 'programmed' using a choice of innovative approaches: Learned Intelligent Motion (physically moving the robot), Ragdoll Animation and Motion Capture (replaced by behavior builder in 2016). These are more about controlling and recording behaviour than true coding, but a lot can be accomplished with them.

But there's hope for a lot more in the future as SpinMaster Meccano have said that it will be possible to program Meccanoid from a variety of languages in future: "Open Source Programming: Communication protocols will be made openly available on our website."  This sounds very promising but we don't have the details yet.

Update: The Meccanoid now has support behaviour builder drag and drop coding in the app. This is proper coding and works for Meccanoid G15 and 2.0 models. This seriously increases the scope of programming for Meccanoid. It's early days for the app and there are some usability issues, but it's a huge step forward.

Update: 2015 Smart Protocols details. Support for programming the Meccanoid with regular programming languages is limited so far and require the use of an Arduino rather than using the Mecca Brain.

Age Suitability

Mindstorms EV3 is recommended from age 10+ (though as we've said, it's definitely suitable for younger techie kids.)

Meccanoid is also recommended for age 10+. Younger kids will get a lot from a robot once it's built but would struggle to construct the robot initially.

Power

Meccanoid G15 is battery powered whereas the G15KS has a useful rechargeable battery. The Meccanoid 2.0 smaller version is still battery powered whereas the larger XL version comes with a rechargeable battery pack.

Mindstorms EV3 uses batteries but you can get a rechargeable battery pack (and one is included in the education edition.)

Ecosystem

LEGO Mindstorms already has a big community with forums, competitions and sharing of experiences.

Meccanoid is new and it will take time to reach the same level.

Extensibility

Both robots have the possibility to be extended both in terms of their construction (via LEGO or Meccano) and their components.

Meccanoid is interesting for its ability to use lots of motors. SpinMaster Meccano have also said that 3D models will be available so that add on parts can be 3D printed which is very interesting. (Update: This hasn't happened yet and there hasn't been any further mention of it, but users have started designed their own parts.)

Mindstorms currently has more add-on modules with a range of sensors available.

Price and Value for Money

Mindstorms EV3 has a retail price of $349.99 whereas Meccanoid G15 is $179.99 and G15KS is $399.99. However, Meccanoid is more likely to be found at a discount. Update, at time of writing the brand new 2.0 versions of Meccanoid are available at a significant discount on Amazon.

The Meccanoid does offer a lot of hardware and entertainment value for the price. All those servos and motors are very promising for building robots that move.

Mindstorms is more established though and there's more structured educational content available and options for programming in different languages are already here rather than promised for the future.

2016 Update - Meccanoid 2.0


Meccanoid have now released the 2.0 version of Meccanoid. This is another difference, LEGO only release a new version of the Mindstorms robot after several years which means it will stay current for longer.

At time of writing the newly released Meccanoid 2.0 is available at a significant discount from its retail price and you can also pick up the older Meccanoid G15 kits cheaply.

Meccanoid 2.0 has a new colour scheme and upgraded Mecca brain. The new robot has more phrases and voice processing has been improved. The smaller version has switched from using C batteries to D batteries.


Mindstorms EV3 vs Meccanoid Conclusion


If you want an established robot with lots of programming options and a good range of sensors then you won't be disappointed with LEGO Mindstorms. Kids who love LEGO will get a lot from being able to customize their models. There are also plenty of books available if kids needs some ideas to get the most from their robot kit.

Mindstorms is a safe choice with a big community out there sharing experiences and creating resources. 

If you want a cool, new and entertaining robot with a newly introduced programming capability which will hopefully improve then Meccanoid is fantastic value for money. Meccanoid is fantastic at parties and when friends come to visit. It feels like a companion robot and hints at the future of robots.

You can also build big robots with Meccanoid, even with just the smaller kit the robot will tower over an EV3.

The community around Meccanoid is only just beginning so you'll be in at the start of it. For some families that will be appealing.









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