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Here's where you'll find all the latest news about technology for children. We love to follow cool new inventions on Kickstarter and we hunt out all the latest announcements about tech toys and gadgets for the coming Christmas holidays. You'll also get our take on children's technology stories in the media.

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Our kids technology product reviews are intended to help you work out whether a toy, gadget or kit is a good fit for your child or family. There's lots of cool stuff available, but is it the right choice for the child or teenager that you are buying for? We'll help you make the right choices and get the best value for money.

GIFT GUIDES$show=/search/label/gift%20guide

Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends assemble. We create gift lists to help you make good choices for kids technology which helps them develop the right skills for the future. We research the best in Coding Toys and Games, Making / Craft Tools and Kits, STEM/STEAM related gifts, Programmable Robots, Electronics Kits and Gadgets for Tech Age Kids and Teens.

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Get crafty with technology. Here we'll post all our ideas and projects using technology to get creative and making with kids. You'll find anything from making a lemon battery to a glow-in-the-dark Minecraft sword. Our projects are tried and tested on our own kids or at events we run, so we are sure you can have a go at home with your kids. Some of our projects use specific tech gadgets which we provide links for you to purchase.

STEM$show=/search/label/stem

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. In recent years there is an increased focus in these areas of study. We like to include Art and Design too, so we often talk about STEAM (A stands for Art). At Tech Age Kids we believe Coding is a new literacy and children need to understand how technology works, practice making skills and grow in their curiosity to make a better future for us all.

CODING$show=/search/label/coding

Coding is increasingly being recognised as an important skill for children to learn. Some will learn to code at school or at a coding club, but it's brilliant if they get support at home too.

ELECTRONICS$show=/search/label/electronics

We think it's really important for kids to get hands-on with electronics and learn how to make circuits and write code to control hardware. Younger kids can start with conductive playdough. For kids who like to combine craft and tech, littleBits are fab. And we love SAM Labs wireless electronics components for making it easy for kids to make Internet of Things inventions. Lots of electronics kits for kids have support for the Arduino microprocessor environment. The DuinoKit Jr is one of our favourites. Arduino is a fab skill for older kids and teens to develop.

ROBOTICS$show=/search/label/robotics

We love robots at Tech Age Kids, especially programmable ones. We've got lots of them and write reviews and projects that use them. Our programmable robots for kids buying guide is a good place to start if you're not sure what's available. Roby the mBot Meccano robot dog is one of our popular projects and has been with us to lots of events. Our Ozobot LEGO trailer is fab for kids who love LEGO and robots.

MAKING AND CRAFT$show=/search/label/making

We're advocates of the creative use of technology, but this needs to be balanced with developing physical skills such as papercraft, woodwork, clay modelling, technical drawing and soldering. If children don't develop these skills as they grow up then physical making projects can become frustrating rather than fun. The Maker Community uses the term 'making' as a broad term to include all sorts of artisan skills or craft activities. Being able to make things can lead to life-long hobbies or even careers. It's a great feeling to be able to take a project from an idea in your head to a real object that does something. We're particularly interested to explore products that combine maker skills with tech skills such as electronics but others focus purely on the physical making skills that are still important to modern making.

MakeBlock MotionBlock Robotics Kit


MotionBlock is a new advanced beginner robotics kit for young people. It's an expensive and feature-packed kit which competes with LEGO Mindstorms and K'Nex Robotics. The age recommendation is 14+ but younger children with experience of using construction kits would also be able to use the kit.

We've been following MakeBlock's robotics kits for children and young people since the mBot Kickstarter and have been consistently impressed with the quality of the hardware for the price.

Disclaimer: We received a MakeBlock MotionBlock kit for the purposes of this review. As always our views are our own.

Unboxing

The MakeBlock MotionBlock kit comes in a large cardboard box with two pull-out cardboard drawers. This works fairly well but we have concerns about the durability. We would prefer it to come in a plastic storage box which is common in the education market but less often seen for the home market. We'll move the kit to a plastic box for durability and to be able to store partially or completely build robots.

The small parts are in a small plastic storage box which we really appreciated. It's much easier to keep everything organised this way.





Getting Started

The MakeBlock Master Control Block is the brains of the kit. It's powered by a rechargeable battery. Unfortunately, the battery has to be charged in a separate charging stand and then inserted into the Control Block. In our experience, a set up like this is a major barrier to frequent use. And you really need to make sure you don't misplace the small charging unit.



We found it confusing to work out which software could be used with the kit. There isn't a MotionBlock app, instead, there are other MakeBlock apps which support multiple robots and kits including MotionBlock.



The Makeblock app has the building instructions and can be used to control the robots that you build. This is the app you'll want to start with to build one of the included models.



The mBlock app is available on tablet and PC and allows Scratch-based block coding. On PC you can also program via Python but you'll need to connect via a USB cable unless you have the MakeBlock USB dongle. If you want to program in Python then we'd definitely recommend getting the dongle (in fact we think it should be included in the kit) as it's inconvenient being tethered to a computer for programming and some of the robots block the USB port on the Master Control Block.

Building

Makeblock uses a combination of large plastic components with small screws and other hardware. The kit comes with a special tool for the screws.

It took our builders aged 8 and 10 around an hour to build the Pitching Auto model which drives around and fires foam balls.

We really liked the approach of large plastic components. It offers a good alternative to young people who do want to do some building but don't want to spend hours on each model.

As we've come to expect from Makeblock, the build quality is excellent.


We did find that one of the foam balls is slightly larger than the others and jams in the tube and the stopper on the end of the tube falls out rather than keeping the balls in which is annoying. These are fairly minor issues that could easily be addressed.



Makeblock app

The Makeblock app includes step by step digital instructions for each model. The instructions are clear and for the most part, easy to follow.

One thing we did find difficult was that some of the parts are differently named in the app and on the box. Hopefully, this is something that will be improved in future.

Once you have completed the build you can control your creation using onscreen controls specific to the model you made.

For the Pitching Auto model you can drive the robot around, adjust the angle and fire a ball. This is a great approach for kids who want to focus on building robots and using them.


The Models


The Makeblock app includes instructions for building 10 different models which cover a lot of common uses for robotics including a robotic arm, robot pets and toys and vehicles.

This is a really good selection of models covering different areas of real-world robotics.

MotionBlock is an expensive kit but the range of models plus the ability to build your does provide a lot of value.

Coding with mBlock

The mBlock app allows you to code with drag and drop blocks in a Scratch 3 based environment on tablet or PC.

There are blocks for controlling the various components, but they need to be connected directly to one of the four ports on the Control Block to be controlled. This isn't how the models are built in the Makeblock app so this is a little confusing and we couldn't find any documentation that explained this. 

We were able to program a robot from an iPad via Bluetooth and from a PC via the USB cable. We'd definitely recommend using Bluetooth as it's not convenient to be wired to the PC and the USB port on the Control Block isn't accessible in some models. 

You can use Bluetooth from a PC but the Makeblock Bluetooth dongle is recommended due to compatibility issues. 

We found that the motors and the launcher module are easy to control using blocks. 

But the servo using to position the angle of the Pitching machine was impossible to position accurately because we couldn't enter small enough values into the block inputs. A movement of 1% power for 1 second gave a large range of movement and smaller values were ignored. 

We would like to see some sample projects for the models. 

We love the approach of combining the full features of Scratch 3 with programming the robotics kit. This means that you can build full-featured interfaces and games that mix on-screen and physical aspects. This is really powerful and creates a fantastically rich environment. 

Python programming is only available on the PC version of mBlock. This means that you'll either need to use a USB cable or purchase a Bluetooth dongle. 

We didn't yet find any documentation for the Python support. You can enter code if you understand the API (the commands you can use) but there isn't yet any sample code or the ability to translate blocks into code. It's early days for this kit so we hope there is more support coming. We plan to return to Python coding of MotionBlock in a future post.

Age Recommendation

The age recommendation on the box is 14+. This seems high to us. 

You do need some manual dexterity to actually build the robots but no more than with LEGO Mindstorms or K'Nex. Children who have experience with other construction kits will be fine with the building at a younger age. 

Scratch block-based coding is also targetted at a younger age group, usually 8-12. But it works well with MotionBlock and means that you can focus on robotics concepts rather than syntax.

Being able to move on to Python coding means that the kit is also suitable for an older age group. My 12-year-old son is now more comfortable coding in Python than Scratch. 

We like that the kit can cover a wider age range, it means that it can be used by differently aged siblings or for a longer period of time. 

Summary


Makeblock MotionBlock is a great addition to the robotics market. We like that you can build lots of different robots from the same kit and that the building feels grown-up and doesn't take hours and hours for each model. We've found that if kids invest a lot of time in building a model then they can be reluctant to take it apart and build another model.

We do wish that the battery could be charged inside the Master Control Block and that would make it much easier to make sure the kit is always powered and ready to go. Young people are far more likely to just plug the control block in that remove the battery, find the charger and plug it in.

The Makeblock app worked well for coding and controlling the models but we wish it was more obvious how you can then move on to coding. 

The mBlock software overall is excellent but it does need documentation specific to MotionBlock which is currently lacking.

We think Makeblock have taken the right approach by building on the Scratch 3 environment rather than creating a coding environment specific to their products. It opens up so many possibilities for combining onscreen elements with physical components.

However, we think that a lot of beginners will struggle to get started with the environment and understand what is possible without documentation and example projects. We expect that the software and content support for MotionBlock will improve over time which will learn to a really powerful beginner robotics environment.

If you want to program in Python then we recommend you also purchase the Makeblock Bluetooth dongle so that you can program wirelessly from a PC. The Python support is more suitable for the target 14+ age group than Scratch so we look forward to trying it out. 


Overall, Makeblock MotionBlock is a fantastic addition to the beginner robotics marketplace. 





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Tech Age Kids | Technology for Children: MakeBlock MotionBlock Robotics Kit
MakeBlock MotionBlock Robotics Kit
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Tech Age Kids | Technology for Children
https://www.techagekids.com/2019/06/makeblock-motionblock-robotics-kit.html
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