There are robot kits, and there are robot kits. As in, there are remote control multi-function toys you can put together, and then there are beings that respond to external stimulus. You are never too old or too young to get started building your own robots. But, there are some important things to consider before taking on a robot building project with your nerdling, like skill level, interest level, and attention span.
Robot Kits for Preschoolers
It is not impossible to build a robot with your preschooler. Just remember to keep your expectations real. Kids at this age are end-results oriented, so the actual process of building or assembly might not be as interesting for them. Look for kits that are durable, simple, and fast to assemble. Ideally, robots with configurable appearance, or that have multiple functions are most appealing to this age group. Preschoolers are at the perfect age to begin absorbing basic physics. They can grasp the concepts of light, dark, friction, liquid, and solid, and many of the robot kits for this age group reinforce learning about the physical aspects of our world. The “toy” robot kits are ideal.
Robot Kits for Elementarians
School-aged mad scientists are more likely to enjoy the process of building something and to enjoy the satisfaction of completing a project. They understand the fundamentals of sustainable energy and alternative means of energy gathering which makes solar-powered robot building a great way to engage the future eco-scientist. Elementarians also have a better understanding of the fragility of electronics, so more complex robot kits are a possibility with this age group.
Don’t automatically think “Lego” when considering robot kits for your school-agers, though the brand’s robot kits and the STAMP programming language are nothing to dismiss lightly. There are many other snap-together kits out there that provide a quality learning and fun experience and are a little faster to put together. A general rule for the more sophisticated robot kits: The more complex the technology, the more limited the functionality. You can buy a good quality single-function robot kit for under $25 that will challenge your youngster and will operate well without a lot of adjustments and tweaking. Be wary of any kit under $20 that supports more than one robotic function; the quality of the parts included may disappoint.
There are even some great solder-free do-it-yourself robot building projects out there that are inexpensive and engaging.
For the Do-it-yourself Devotional
One of my heroes is Mark Tilden, the father of BEAM robotics; Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics, Mechanics. I was one of the many who, from his instruction, disassembled my old Sony Walkman and used its motor and other components to create a light seeking robot. After I got the hang of it, my son and I would grab a bread board and a soldering iron and build little robots together, with me doing the soldering.
Do-it-yourself projects are ideal for the child who has some experience with kits and is ready to take things to the next level. Do-it-yourself robots are usually specialized, focusing on one specific behavior.
These days you can assemble robots from scraps and parts without having to solder by wrapping the wire and securing components with tie wraps. Components are a lot smaller these days, allowing for more aesthetics than ever before. Polymer clay can be molded into housing to hide the innards and add aesthetic appeal. Do-it-yourself robot projects are all over the Internet. BEAM projects can be found here.
For the truly hardcore robot DIYer, GoRobotics is for you. This place not only shows you how to build robot components, but also describes the mathematics behind robot component design stability. If it’s a science project you’re looking for, this is the site for you.