Wednesday, 8 November 2017

MU Spacebot: AI enabled Wooden Robot Kit - Review

 

The MU SpaceBot is a fantastic little programmable robot which comes in a kit ready for you to build and code. It works with vision AI technology and can be programmed using a mobile app or MU Blockly on a computer.

We spent a Sunday afternoon playing board games and decided to try to build the MU SpaceBot. In this post, we share our building experience as a non-techie family with our kids aged 7 and 9.

Disclaimer: Morpx the makers of MU and MU SpaceBot kindly sent us a Spacebot kit to review. As always our views are our own.


Purchase MU SpaceBot from Amazon US and RobotShop.com

As a family, we tend to shy away from complex robotic or electronics projects as neither myself nor my husband is technically minded. The MU SpaceBot kit didn't look too scary. I was pleasantly surprised by the experience and everyone really enjoyed working on the project. MU SpaceBot has since been sitting on our kitchen table and the kids chat with it, make it play music and complete missions in the app by programming the robot.

It's worth noting at this point, the robot can't walk. It stays in one position but it can move it's head up and down and sideways.

The MU SpaceBot uses the technology of MU developed by Morpx to teach children about AI concepts and programming interactions with humans. We've reviewed the MU smart eye here on Tech Age Kids and completed a couple projects integrating it with a Hexbug Spider and Edison Robot.

What's in the Box?

MU SpaceBot comes in a medium sized sturdy box containing everything you need to construct the robot, including all the tools. You only need to add 3 AAA batteries to the battery pack. Fully charged rechargeable batteries are recommended.

There are 59 pieces, including two servos, the MU Sensor board, a speaker and the laser cut wooden pieces. You also get an instruction manual, music map, pre-printed skin stickers and a set of blank skin stickers to create your own style robot.

The box is a nice size and will house your built robot, although will not be able to close fully once your robot is built. Nevertheless, it makes a very suitable storage box for the robot and extra bits.


The Building Experience

If you've ever built IKEA furniture, managed to follow their instructions and end up with a sturdy piece of furniture - you'll be fine with MU SpaceBot. But you'll have to keep your head together and check the drawings in the instruction manual carefully.

We only made one mistake, where we stuck a mouthpiece sticker on the wrong side (it was easily fixed) and that is pretty good based on our IKEA furniture building skills! :)

We all built the robot together and each member of the family had a different body part to complete. The first page of the instruction manual is really important and we'd definitely recommend you follow it. You need to press all the wooden pieces out and then organise them into groups - arms, body, head, neck.

The wooden pieces push together. Our youngest (7-year) only needed a little assistance to push pieces in place. The boys didn't struggle to build it all, but admittedly we build A LOT of LEGO and they also help build IKEA furniture!


I loved the fact that we were using wood to build our robot. Although the instruction provides a warning for potential sharp edges on the laser cut wooden pieces, ours were absolutely fine. You do need to take some care when pressing the wooden pieces out of the sheets, so you don't end up splitting the wood or breaking off a piece. Because it is wood, you could glue it, but we didn't find this was necessary.

It really was a great building experience for our family.

  • Tip: Test the electronics, once everything is connected, before you add the last pieces to enclose the head. 


The Electronics

On the first page of the instructions, they recommend you place stickers on the different electronic parts, to make things easier when it comes to connecting everything to the MU Sensor Board. We recommend you follow this instruction!

We got our connections the wrong way round at first, but thankfully the top panel of the robot head is easily removed to check the electronics. The connectors have a right and wrong way to connect to the pins on the sensor board.

  • Tip: Check the servos are aligned correctly as it will affect the position of the head and the operation of the robot.


Skins

The skins (stickers) are applied as you build. You could take them off after building the robot fully and replace with other skins. The kit comes in two colours - Orange (the one we have) and Purple. Each kit also have a sheet of blank stickers, which you can colour to create a robot with your own designs.

The stickers are a fantastic quality and my boys were able to peel them off the sheet and stick on the robot independently. We made up the orange robot, and like it too much to change it now.


Out of the Box Functionality

The MU SpaceBot comes with 3 functions - talking mode, music mode and programming mode. You scroll through the modes by pressing the button on the robot head.

My kids really liked the talking mode. The robot follows your face and "chats" with you. When it can't see your face, it "looks" for you and when it sees a face again it will talk.

You need the music map in music mode. Place the robot on the rectangle on the music map and put it into Music mode. The robot head will move down to "look" at the notes on the music map. When the robot says "Let's play music" you can begin to tap the notes to play sound. My 9-year-old soon discovered how the technology worked and that he didn't actually have to "press" the note to play it! In this mode, you can only play one instrument, but you can programme it to play other sounds in programming mode.


Programming SpaceBot

MU SpaceBot is programmable using MU Blockly on your computer or an Andriod or iOS mobile app. We used the MU Bot app on my iPad Air 2. The robot connected very easily via Bluetooth.  There are 10 missions you can work through to learn about the different capabilities of the robot. Each start with a background story, which makes the learning engaging and fun.

You need to follow the steps exactly to be able to move on to the next step. In some cases, we didn't programme the robot correctly and couldn't move on. You can skip steps if this is frustrating.

There's also an option to do freeform programming. Here you have access to all the code blocks which include vision detection and conditions code blocks. You can programme the servo motors, an LED light and sound (voice).

You'll need to create an account to access the programming platform, but this does mean you can save your work and load it another time to work on your project.


Verdict

MU SpaceBot is recommended for age 8+ and we'd say that is just about right, with some adult assistance here and there.

The kit was fun to build as a family and we all learned new skills. The MU SpaceBot helped my kids understand how visual recognition works, with the addition of artificial intelligence to recognise human faces and interact.

I love the wooden body and the experience of making something with wood. The parts and build quality are great. Admittedly it isn't a cheap little robot, but you are getting quality and something that you can customise and programme.

The fact that you can code the robot makes the price more acceptable as it really increases what you can do with it and the longevity of the kit (on the kitchen table).

The MU SpaceBot enables families to have a fun and interactive introduction to simple robotics, construction, and AI.

Purchase MU SpaceBot from Amazon US and RobotShop.com



Also see:





More from Tech Age Kids:

Comments:

Post a Comment