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Modular Robotics with Robo Wunderkind - Review


Robo Wunderkind is an education robotics kit built to teach children about robotics and coding. The modular system makes it easy to understand what each part does and allows for creativity and building your own robots.

Review by Phil Wickins from Run Don't Walk

Disclaimer: This set was sent to us by Robo Wunderkind to review, all opinions are our own.



What's in the box?

This Robo Wunderkind Eduction Kit contains:



  • Main Block (Orange long block in the picture above)- The brain and heart of your creation with built-in speaker. This also contains the power unit and is chargeable via a micro USB cable with 5amp plug, like a typical Android smartphone charger (not included).
  • 2 x DC Motors (Dark blue blocks)- powerful, multidirectional, not particularly fast, but enough to get your creation moving.
  • Distance Sensor (Red block)- Also measures sound
  • Connector Block (Green block)- like a spacer, 6 faces to connect to other blocks.
  • 2x Wheels
  • RGB LED- thin attachment with LED built in.
  • Button- thin attachment (red) with a big button the size of one of the cube's faces
  • Servo (Light blue bock)- turns through almost 360 degrees (180 one way and 180 the other, will not rotate ongoing like a motor)
  • Wired connector- provides a connection to blocks that are far apart, or separated by a non-connecting block (e.g. the servo, more about this later)
  • 4x Lego compatible faceplates (clip into the face of the cubes to provide the 4x4 male part of popular construction toys)
  • 5x Connector plates- thin plates which have the male clips on both sides and metal connection pins, to connect and transfer power and information between the blocks. The blocks will not communicate with each other without using these (or the wired connector) to connect them to the main block.
  • Small Wheel- a free wheeling, multidirectional, non-powered jockey wheel for supporting any 2 wheeled creation, providing a 3rd point of contact for stability.
  • A small manual showing the blocks, their symbol in the coding app, and a short description of what they do, as shown below:

Getting Started

This robust, simple kit requires a Bluetooth connection between the Main Block and a smartphone/mobile device running OS or Android (although it says on the box there is a desktop app which runs on Windows 10 or Mac OS9, we think this is some sort of misprint, as OS9 is obsolete and there appears to be no version of the app that runs on a desktop computer that we can find).




The first thing we had to do was to download the app and connect to the Main Block. My son has an older iPhone 5 which doesn't run anything higher than OS10, yet it downloaded and ran the app with no problems. Our first issue was connecting via Bluetooth; the phone wouldn't find the block despite being near it and powered on. We tried putting the Main Block on charge for a while (after finding the right cable, not included in the kit!) and lo and behold, the Main Block appeared on our iPhone and connected. After a short moment for it to update its own firmware, which required logging the phone onto the Main Block's own wifi network (very clever!), we were all set and ready to go.

Building





On first inspection, the kit appears to be well made and easy to put together. There is a separation tool to prise apart the blocks and plates, that clip together using prongs that are similar to those used in Technic Lego (and do indeed fit the holes in Technic Lego pieces). The colour coded blocks really help children to identify differences and build confidently.



My son decided straight away that he would build a robot that used all of the components. Typical! So, he created a two-wheel drive robot with the jockey wheel supporting the front, with a servo neck, sensor face, light on top and button on the chest.


One of the issues I noticed quickly that if you have a motor or servo block connected to another block which requires power or data (i.e. here we have a servo neck with the sensor block on top and LED on top of that), you need to provide the connection another way. In other words, the motor's and the servo's rotating face do not have the electric connection pins, they are purely plastic. If you're attaching wheels, no problem, the wheels don't need any power or data. However, the sensor and LED on top of the servo needed to be connected somehow to the main block. This is where the wired connector came in useful, providing the connection but still allowing the head to move freely.

Coding

I really like the user interface for coding the Robo Wunderkind. It retains the colour code and pictorial ideas from most block based kid's programming languages, however, it is not represented in the typical vertical flowchart. You drag in the different actions for each component (coloured the same colour as the blocks themselves) form the menu into the coding area. You can then group them together so that they happen at the same time (the bubble grows as you add more), and add directional links between the 'bubbles' denoting which operations happen first. You can then add conditions onto the links, so that the program will only move from one bubble to the next if say, the button is pushed, or the sensor is triggered. This lovely way of coding easily opens up the idea of sequence and loops in a way that cannot be depicted in a vertical script.



We did have a couple of issues with blocks suddenly disappearing from the app; possibly becoming disconnected from the Main Block somehow. The symbols for the blocks can only be dragged into the coding area once they have been connected to, and recognised by, the Main Block. Therefore, if you've coded a sequence including a servo, and then the servo suddenly drops the connection, none of your code will run. The app does not ignore the part of the code that controls the servo, it simply greys out the start button so it cannot be run at all.

This is quite frustrating and happened to us a couple of times. We had to systematically go through the code in the menu bar to find out which block had dropped out, or start removing the blocks physically from the main block to find out which one was not connecting. Once we found which block had dropped the connection, we removed the corresponding code in the app, and the green start button became active again and the code could be run.  Then we were able to re-connect the block physically, and re-enter the code (Which would have been more of a problem, if we'd written a lot more code involving that block).

However, we managed to get our creation up and running; my 9-year-old needed a bit of support with the coding and how to use the inputs on the links between bubbles, but once he was shown, he could change and extend the code on his own.


What does it teach kids?

Develops creativity, independence, cognitive and fine motor skills. It introduces children to the basics of physical computing, with components like lights and motors safely and easily housed in connectable blocks. It also introduces an interesting and unique visual programming language which is fluid and differs from the usual top down flowchart approach.

Verdict

A very smart, well made and easy to use kit. Apart from the connection issues, my son was engaged and inspired to build and control his own robot, with success after a short amount of time. I'd recommend using a tablet rather than phone, as the code symbols and window is extremely small and although you can see it, editing it with your fingers is tricky. 

The Lego compatible faceplates are a stroke of genius, as are making the connectors between the cubes compatible with Technic Lego. However, this enables you to attach lego to the kit. What if you wanted to attach the kit to your Lego? As you can see from the photo, the Lego compatible plates supplied are all the 'male' side so you can build 'on' to. What my son wanted to do, was install the Main Block into his already built caterpillar truck and make it controllable.

Therefore my plea to Robo Wunderkind would be to supply some 'female' plates (i.e. the underside of a Lego plate) so that when clipped into the Main Block, it could be stuck directly on to a Lego model, and become the 'brain' inside a Lego creation, rather than simply being able to build onto the kit. 

Using the Lego compatible plates and the plate connectors with Technic Lego, the kit is as versatile as children's imaginations. 




National Curriculum Links (United Kingdom):

Key stage 1

Computing: 
Pupils should be taught to:
  • understand what algorithms are; how they are implemented as programs on digital devices; and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions
  • create and debug simple programs
  • use logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs

Key stage 2

Computing: 
Pupils should be taught to:
  • design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts
  • use sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; work with variables and various forms of input and output
  • use logical reasoning to explain how some simple algorithms work and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs
Design Technology:
Pupils should be taught to:
  • understand and use electrical systems in their products [for example, series circuits incorporating switches, bulbs, buzzers, and motors]
  • apply their understanding of computing to program, monitor and control their products.



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Tech Age Kids | Technology for Children: Modular Robotics with Robo Wunderkind - Review
Modular Robotics with Robo Wunderkind - Review
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