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Ask Slashdot: Entry-Level Robotics Kits For Young Teenagers? 153

Posted by timothy
from the old-teenagers-much-grumpier dept.
An anonymous reader writes "So, it's that wonderful time of year again. Instead of buying the latest, greatest whiz-bang, overpriced fad toy of the year, I thought I might try my hand at corrupting my nieces (ages 12 and 14) in a nerdier direction with some sort of introductory robotics kit. They have no programming experience, and part of my idea is that it would be encouraging for them to see interactions of their code that they write with the real-world by being able to control some actuators and read sensors. The first thing that comes to mind is Lego Mindstorms, but I find them a bit on the pricey side of things. My budget falls between $40 and $100, and the ideal kit would focus more on the software side than on soldering together circuits. I'd be looking for a kit that provides an easy to learn API and development tools that will work with a standard Windows PC. I don't mind spending a few afternoons helping them out with the basics, but I'd like for them to be able to be able to explore on their own after grasping the initial concepts. Has anybody gotten their younger relations into programming through robotics, and what kits might you recommend?"
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Ask Slashdot: Entry-Level Robotics Kits For Young Teenagers?

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  • OWI robotic arm (Score:5, Informative)

    by rwa2 (4391) * on Sunday December 18, 2011 @01:31PM (#38417460) Homepage Journal

    About a year ago I was looking for something similar to the Radio Shack Armitron I had as a kid. I ended up getting an OWI robotic arm [imagesco.com] for my kids, which is pretty cheap at $35 on Amazon, also has a USB control board for an extra $15 or so. You assemble it yourself, but it's fairly easy as plastic models go, even relative to Legos, and the build quality is pretty high for the price.

    There's even code [livejournal.com]. to get the USB control stuff working under *nix . I had to make a few minor tweaks to get it to compile on my Linux box, and it's a bit basic, but it worked! Would be fairly trivial to build a web interface to it along with a webcam. The only downside is that it still draws power from D-cells, but that's easy enough to live with.

    • This isn't really a good system for computer control, because it has no feedback - it uses simple DC motors without potentiometers or servos. So there is no way for the computer to know the arm position.

  • ...and has shown NO interest in this. I too anxiously await recommendations from /.ers!

    • Re:My son is 13... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tomhudson (43916) <.barbara.hudson. ... bara-hudson.com.> on Sunday December 18, 2011 @02:04PM (#38417724) Journal

      Buy them something THEY want or would appreciate. The goal should be to please them, not your own inner child.

      What next - "Gee, *I* would like a new chainsaw, so I think I'll buy one for my wife/girlfriend/significant other" ...

      • You couldn't be more off base. Everyone secretly thinks just like I do, unless someone is paying them to think a different way.

      • Re:My son is 13... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 18, 2011 @03:20PM (#38418278)

        You're wrong, of course. The best gifts open up new worlds for the recipient. Do you think I wanted a Radio Shack Electronics Lab when I was a kid? I had no idea. But I spent hours on that thing learning the basics of how circuits worked. I've received gifts that similarly unlocked doors to things I'd never thought about. Sometimes they were merely provoking, other times I ignored them completely. But simply filling in the checkboxes on someone's wishlist is the exact wrong way to go about gift-giving.

        • by tomhudson (43916)
          Nobody's advocating a "fill-in-the-checkbox" approach. What I *am* saying, is think about what *they* would enjoy. Here's part of the last line:

          Has anybody gotten their younger relations into programming through robotics

          So there's your motive - "I want them to get into programming". A field that has a surplus of labour, terrible working conditions, is extremely easy to outsource, and will eventually be mostly rendered obsolete by AI. Frankly, while I was disappointed at the time, I'm now glad my daug

          • Re:My son is 13... (Score:4, Interesting)

            by gtbritishskull (1435843) on Sunday December 18, 2011 @05:29PM (#38419090)

            I completely disagree with you. For one, I do not think you should avoid teaching a child something because you are afraid that they will want to do it when they are older. I think you should expose them to as much as possible so that they can make the decision for themselves.

            Also, the "programming bug" is not a bad thing to catch. While I agree that being a code monkey is probably a bad idea, and going to be even more of a bad idea in the future, for the reasons you mention, almost EVERY other field can benefit from programming knowledge. Physicists might have to know how to program (to analyze data). Engineers might need to know how to program CNC. Even librarians might need to know how to program to make SQL queries. Computers are used in just about every field. Knowing how to program is a value-add.

            You should try broadening your kids horizons instead of narrowing their vision. If you have been a good enough parent then they should know how to make the right decisions. If not, then you probably shouldn't be telling them how to live their life anyways.

            • by tomhudson (43916)

              Hopefully in the future, SQL will die the death it so richly deserves. After 40 years, you'd think we'd have come up with something better ... :-)

              Also, if they want to "discover programming", there's this great tool that they probably already have access to, called, hmmm, wait a minute, it's coming to me ... oh, right, the Internet. And if you google for "learn how to program", the first unsponsored hit gives a realistic perspective teach yourself programming in 10 years [norvig.com].

              But seriously, if they want t

              • by Hognoxious (631665) on Sunday December 18, 2011 @08:01PM (#38420046) Homepage Journal

                If you've ever tasted some of the more expensive specialty chocolates, you'll know what I mean. Think of the sweatiest, dirtiest, raunchiest, kinkiest sex you ever had - and multiply by two. It's that good.

                If the sweatiest, dirtiest, raunchiest, kinkiest sex I ever had actually involved expensive specialty chocolates, should I multiply by four, eight, or just expect a stack overflow?

                Umm, speaking purely hypothetically, of course.

                • by tomhudson (43916)

                  If you've ever tasted some of the more expensive specialty chocolates, you'll know what I mean. Think of the sweatiest, dirtiest, raunchiest, kinkiest sex you ever had - and multiply by two. It's that good.

                  If the sweatiest, dirtiest, raunchiest, kinkiest sex I ever had actually involved expensive specialty chocolates, should I multiply by four, eight, or just expect a stack overflow?

                  Umm, speaking purely hypothetically, of course.

                  Hypothetically speaking? I would be hoping that you already had your

              • by EdIII (1114411)

                Gift giving for nieces is simple. When in doubt - give chocolate. Because chocolate never goes out of style. If you've ever tasted some of the more expensive specialty chocolates, you'll know what I mean. Think of the sweatiest, dirtiest, raunchiest, kinkiest sex you ever had - and multiply by two. It's that good.

                3 little observations.

                1) You're giving your nieces something better than the best sex you ever had? I don't know if that is just really perverted, or the best Aunt ever. All relative I guess.

                2) This is Slashdot. Anything multiplied by zero is... ummmm. zero.

                3) Can you post a link to those specific chocolates? 7 days till Christmas so there is still time left for ordering.

                • by tomhudson (43916)

                  Actually, it was one of my nieces who gave them to me. Totally awesome - we were still talking about them 6 months later. The sort of chocolate that you don't want to share, but you absolutely HAVE to! Unfortunately, I don't remember the name - it was a specialty store, so it's not like it's something you can just pick up at the local mall. (If I had seen them ...)

              • Ok... you don't like SQL. That is not the point. Whatever replaces it will probably still be programming (at least if it is flexible enough to be actually useful).

                Also, why do you think it is better for kids just to "discover" things on their own. Its a terrible idea to give the kid a football as a christmas present... let him "discover" it on his own.

                Or, you can try to give him (or her) things that you think they might like and help them to discover it. If they don't like it, then you will know. I, in

                • by tomhudson (43916)

                  You're still missing the original point - this whole gift-giving is based on the ulterior motive of trying to get them interested in programming. Now, if the poster had ANY clue as to what they were actually interested in, perhaps a gift more along the lines of furthering their exploration and interest in THAT topic would be more appropriate?

                  Or, if I may use your own words in your latest reply:

                  I prefer to show the person that I actually know about them by getting them something that I think they will li

              • by lahvak (69490)

                Also, if they want to "discover programming", there's this great tool that they probably already have access to, called, hmmm, wait a minute, it's coming to me ... oh, right, the Internet. And if you google for "learn how to program", the first unsponsored hit gives a realistic perspective teach yourself programming in 10 years.

                I'm sorry, but that's stupid. These are for people who either don't really want to learn programming, but have to or think they have to, or for people who already are interested in

                • by tomhudson (43916)

                  What's the first thing most people do nowadays when they're interested in something? They hit the net. It's the same (even more so) with kids today. That's the reality. If they were at all interested in programming, they would be asking around; if they were interested in robotics, they would already have something like the Mindstorm on their list.

                  You're also completely ignoring the last paragraph of the original post, which asked the following question:

                  Has anybody gotten their younger relations into

      • by westlake (615356)

        Buy them something THEY want or would appreciate. The goal should be to please them, not your own inner child.

        That is the first rule.

        The second rule is that "you get what you pay for."

        LEGO Mindstorms --- for example --- isn't cheap as projects get more ambitious, but it is well designed, highly regarded and has a strong user community.

  • by korgitser (1809018) on Sunday December 18, 2011 @01:33PM (#38417476)

    Arduino makes electronics and programming simple.
    Cheap chinese toys provide you with part( set)s like motors, gears and radio links, with the additional engineering tricks to observe.
    Regular Lego parts provide you with fast no-brainer mechanics. Fear not the drilling and abusing of Lego blocks to mount that motor!
    The hard part now is for them to come up with ideas and interest.

    • by durrr (1316311)
      Hacking toys is a bitching process. My recommendation would be a basic arduino compatible robot platform prebuilt, that way you get up and rolling fast. A set of wheels on a platform and some ~$20 electric motor and lipo batteries for something chocklingly fast if you want to pick them more separately.
    • by pinkeen (1804300)
      Kids aged 12-14 might feel a bit too intimidated even by simple programming. It might be an unbreakable entry barrier. I would recommend something that uses this simplified "visual progamming" software.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I would recommend something that uses this simplified "visual progamming" software.

        Yes! Get them to write the code using Vi, the Visual editor. It makes everything easy.

      • by rubycodez (864176) on Sunday December 18, 2011 @02:28PM (#38417856)
        Any 10 year old of average intelligence can be taught to do simple programming. Ten year olds can be taught to make electronic devices too. A fourteen year old who actually is interested enough can earn an amateur radio licence and build a ham radio. Please don't contribute to the growing pandemic of treating our children like morons.
        • The issue isn't if they can do it, it's will they. Kids and teenagers want to play video games, hang out with their friends, chase girls, etc. If you don't present programming in the right light, they won't be interested or try it out and set it aside. I've seen it at every age level. Starting with C/C++ is probably the worst approach possible.

          • by rubycodez (864176)
            who said c/c++ had to be used? a nice library to a fun language could instead be employed. as to attention span and hobbies prevalent today, the issue is proper mentoring and teaching, to create and nature interest. I am very thankful my parents and a couple very influential teachers provided that for me. I was indeed making electronic devices at age 10 and writing software at age 11 (programming was thanks to teachers). I'm 48 years old), my hobbies have become my income source over the years, and that
        • by rev0lt (1950662)
          I actually started programming in assembly when I was 10, because I needed a quick "operating system" for a microcontroller board I was developing. The board itself never saw the light of day, but the simplicity of the assembly language coupled with the direct concept of digital electronics made me interested in learning more about programming, and eventually I gave up electronics almost completely. Many of the things I've learned during that time are usable today, even if I'm not in the field. In retrospec
    • I vote for the arduino too. I might even build them a 'dumbed down' "case" for them (opto isolators and the such) so they can't break it.

      But there is nothing cooler and makes stuff click in programming more than when you say "pin on" and an LED lights up or a motor turns on.

  • FIRST (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 18, 2011 @01:36PM (#38417510)

    Alternatively, or in addition, you could find a FIRST team for them to interact with. It would provide a good gateway for them to get into it, and it has teams for every level from kindergarten to high school. Obviously only an option if there's a relatively local one though.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by timothyb89 (1259272)
      +1 to this. I know from personal experience that this is the way to go, especially for younger kids. Not only does it have a solid track for growth, from elementary until high school (FLL -> FTC -> FRC) , but it makes sure that you have other people to work with. Plus, there's generally no or very little cost to the student.

      If that's not an option, I'd still recommend Mindstorms. It's more expensive, sure, but it really is leaps and bounds better than the alternatives. Younger kids (late elementary t

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        You could probably get started with arduino for around $50, but it would be an uphill battle. But you can get $1 servos now, so it's not totally infeasible if you have some nifty scraps around, broken toys, et cetera. We have a salvation army center pretty near me that sells us armloads of stuff for five or ten bucks, and there's often a lot of electronic toys in the bins in various states of disrepair, some of which have obvious hack value. Flea markets and yard sales are some other good sources. Just pick

  • It's a bit higher than that price range though, at $130 [irobot.com].

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Nothing gets women into robotics better than a programmable vacuum cleaner!

    • by mirix (1649853)

      Interesting, I thought they used to cost a lot more (as much as the vacuums, so I figured you be better off hacking one of them).

      hmm, it shows in the items included:

      Battery Case (holds 12 non-rechargeable alkaline batteries. Batteries not included)

      I thought the normal roombas have a big Nimh or so battery, and a dock? Might still be worth while to get the vacuum if that's the case...

      Think I'll pick up one of the vacuum models at some point, that way if I get bored of it, it can still have a function ;)

      • by Trepidity (597)

        Ah yeah, it looks like this is the cut-price "feed it alkalines" model. You can get the one with a rechargeable battery and dock for the dearer price point of $220 [irobot.com].

        • by mirix (1649853)

          I guess if the only difference between these two is the battery and charger, at $80, might be wiser to get the cheaper one, and pick those up on ebay? Guess I'll have to look into it some more.

          Have you hacked on them at all, yourself?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    www.osbots.com sells a cell phone based platform.

  • Parallax! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Dzimas (547818) on Sunday December 18, 2011 @01:40PM (#38417534)
    Visit Parallax.com - lots of robot kits starting at about $130. These are great gateway products into "real" robotics, without the oversimplification of Lego bricks.
  • I suppose the field of rooting would be called rootics.
  • Sources for kits (Score:5, Informative)

    by savuporo (658486) on Sunday December 18, 2011 @01:42PM (#38417558)
    There are numerous kits available, best sources for choosing one would be http://www.pololu.com/ [pololu.com] , http://www.trossenrobotics.com/ [trossenrobotics.com] , http://www.robotshop.com/ [robotshop.com] , http://www.lynxmotion.com/ [lynxmotion.com] , http://www.makershed.com/ [makershed.com] and a bunch of others. http://sparkfun.com/ [sparkfun.com] and http://adafruit.com/ [adafruit.com] for more general electronics components

    Cant really recommend one in particular, as it depends on what you want to do. There are several categories : 2wheel differential drive bases, legged hexapods, 4wd bases, even bipeds and robotic arms.

    If you get one that is designed to be Arduino-compatible, and can take any number of Arduino expansion shields, you will have endless possibilities. I'd say easiest starting point is a complete 2WD kit with some accessory sensors. This is a nice one http://www.makershed.com/product_p/mkseeed7.htm [makershed.com] , comes with motors and all. Just pick a "mainboard" and motor driver shield and you are good to go.
  • But from what I gather robotics are expensive. Even entry-level. That said, if you want something easy to play with Mindstorms seems to be the only viable option.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      That's really the point, isn't it? LEGO mindstorms is easier to use. Most parents don't think twice about plunking down $40 for a NERF blaster.
      The LEGO device is right priced and provides a good ecosystem of peripherals. If your child loves it, then give him an allowance and let him meander through the parallaxes and what-not.

    • by rev0lt (1950662)
      So are playstations and whatnot. For the price of a modern console and a couple of games, I'm shure you can buy a nifty robot kit.
  • It looks like Edmund Scientific has some. Not sure which one is best though. http://www.scientificsonline.com/robotics.html/ [scientificsonline.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 18, 2011 @01:45PM (#38417584)
    if you want a robot kit, buy yourself a robot kit. They probably want an iPad or money or a bag of weed. Something they can actually use.
    • by Joce640k (829181)

      +1 Insightful.

  • Fisher Technik (Score:2, Informative)

    by Bram Stolk (24781)

    Fischer Technik is an absolute winner here.
    Excellent for teenagers.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fischertechnik [wikipedia.org]

    It goes well beyond what lego mindstorms has to offer.
    True 6D connections, and even has stuff like pneumatics!
    http://www.robotmatrix.org/Fischertechnik-Pneumatic-Robot.htm [robotmatrix.org]

    Bram Stolk
    http://stolk.org/HoverBiker/ [stolk.org]

    • by eht (8912)

      Also absolutely expensive

      This post is nothing more than an ad for his ios game.

      • by Bram Stolk (24781)

        Also absolutely expensive

        This post is nothing more than an ad for his ios game.

        First off... how are the two related?

        About your first point: yes, FischerTechnik is one of the more expensive options.
        I glanced over the OP budget point.
        But there is always the 2nd hand market.

        About your second point:
        'nothing more'?

        Really...? Nothing more?
        I think bringing attention to FT is very valid here (also according to the moderators apparently), and a lot of nerds would like pneumatics in their robot kit.
        I was heavily into FT for a time before moving onto custom made robotics, so I have some valid co

    • Re:Fisher Technik (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 18, 2011 @02:24PM (#38417836)

      Posting as an AC because my job requires me to work with FT products...

      I couldn't disagree more with regard to FischerTechnik. The mechanics are almost decent enough for what they are, but electrically it is a disaster. It feels industrial, but it doesn't deliver.

      The electrical connectors are very flaky and prone to pull out. On the brick, the connectors are too close together, so you are often forced to pull by the wire. Even if you don't, there is no compliance in the set screw that holds the wire in, so they will easily fall out with vibration. They recommend folding the exposed copper back over the insulation to give some springyness, but this only reduces the symptoms and does not solve the problem.

      The sensor options are decent, and it shouldn't be overly difficult to jerry-rig new sensors in. However, the wiring can be confusing for anything that requires 3 wires.

      Programming wise, their default "language" is utterly unworkable for anything beyond the most basic "if sensor then motor" logic. They do provide dll hooks for other languages, but be sure to add 10ms waits between all function calls if you want reliable communication.

      Mechanically, it is extremely easy to make a robot disassemble itself. For example, the gripper on the crane will disconnect itself if you close it "too hard" (motor >80% power): the detents on the axles are too weak to handle side loading. With some experience, you can work around these short comings by understanding what the pieces can and can't do.

      • By the time you get to the point of doing anything advanced, you should be competent enough to do your own wiring. There should be no need to rely on flaky connections. (But I admit that this is something the company should address; it has been that way for far too long.)

        I repeat, however, that it is used by universities throughout the U.S. in their robotics and industrial control classes. While it may not be perfect, I don't know of any other actual construction sets (as opposed to "robotics kits") that
    • by Rimbo (139781)

      I have a soft spot in my heart for FT, because when I was growing up, FT was vastly superior to anything Lego made. I had a lot of fun using FT robotics on my Apple //e. They also had the pneumatics kit, electromechanics, and a whole bunch of things that were far beyond what Lego offered then.

      But...

      It's not so much that FT has faded as that Lego has caught up in the areas where it was weak and remained strong in the areas where it had FT beat. Modern Lego models are a lot better at showing you how to put pi

    • Fisher Technik has long ago been surpassed by Lego.
      When I was a child Fisher was big, but Lego Technic has completely replaced them in the retail space.

      I would rather recommend starting out with Lego Technic, so they can learn the basic mechanics, and then add PF (Power Functions), and maybe end up with Mindstorm. But starting with Technic sets, you can see if they will have an interest.

  • Umm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jiro (131519) on Sunday December 18, 2011 @01:52PM (#38417614)

    No offense, but the way this question is phrased it doesn't sound like they had any interest in the subject. We've had questions like this before, although usually it's "how do I get a kid started in programming", but we need to remember that kids are likely to have different interests and you cannot make one become a geek unless they already are.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      How do they know if they like it or not if they haven't been exposed to it?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by QuarkofNature (845690)
        A friend of mine has a son who's interested. Every time they come over, he's asking me about my latest computer / electronics / whatever project. He hid a from-scratch crystal radio he was building under his jacket, last time they were over, to show me and ask me questions, without telling his parents. He is interested. As cool as it is in concept, getting a $200+ kit for a kid who hasn't shown any interest because "maybe they just haven't been exposed to it" seems like a waste of money to me. If you ac
      • If they like to take things apart with a screwdriver, and successfully put them back together again, they might be interested in robotics. If they are more interested in football or dancing around with a tutu, then it's probably not for them.

  • snap circuits? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 18, 2011 @01:56PM (#38417652)

    Snap circuits price point better than Lego Mindstorms, appear to be less complex than RadioShack's 50 in 1 electronics kits...

    i bought a couple of the RS electronics learning lab kits in anticipation of my kids developing interest, but they are still too young..

    http://www.snapcircuits.net/

    several choices...

  • Why not just get a breadboard and go read http://www.societyofrobots.com/ [societyofrobots.com] ?
    Under 100$, you have all you need to create your first robot.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    > I thought I might try my hand at corrupting my nieces (ages 12 and 14) in a nerdier direction ...

    I once tried that with my nieces of that age. I was told in no uncertain terms that they didn't want no more nerdy Christmas presents. Geeks are born, not made - or at least there must be parental support of actual thinking. Go with the cheapest junk de jour you can find *if* you must maintain family peace, otherwise a small lump of coal will do as well as any nerdy presents.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Don't be a tightwad.

    Lego Mindstorms is what I grew up on and it does very well what it was designed to do. Mindstorms lowers the barriers to entry enough to where someone in the age group you specified can actually get some benefit out of the experience.

    At the same time, Mindstorms is sophisticated enough that you aren't just soldering together a pre-programmed microcontroller like some of the robots kits out of "Edmunds Scientific".

    Arduino can teach someone who has no experience with programming or electro

  • by ukemike (956477) on Sunday December 18, 2011 @02:03PM (#38417716) Homepage

    They have no programming experience,

    and probably no interest. You know the way to give good gifts is to try to understand what the recipient enjoys then give based on that information. When you try to push something "good for them" on them you're like that dentist who hands out toothbrushes on halloween.

    • by obarel (670863)

      Reminds you of the usual Christmas questions on Slashdot: "This year I've decided to give my family a Linux distro on a USB stick. Any suggestions?"

      • Hehehe. Or the "My 3 year old daughter seems to be very interested about what I do on computer, so I am looking for suggestions for her first laptop..."
    • by IANAAC (692242)

      They have no programming experience,

      and probably no interest.

      That was exactly what I thought when I read the summary. If a 12 y/o kid hasn't shown any interest in something like programming, they probably aren't going to be interested in it.

  • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Sunday December 18, 2011 @02:08PM (#38417746)

    The thing about robotics is there's a great divide between really cool stuff and really lame stuff in terms of price. There are a lot of really cheap robotics kits.... but they're pretty lame: solder a few wires to a motor and board and watch a car follow a line. BFD. And then that's it, you can't do anything more with it. On the other hand all the awesome hexapods and humanoids are going to run you thousands of dollars. A single servo can cost over $100!

    With that in mind, I highly suggest reconsidering the Mindstorms kit. You might even consider buying a Mindstorms 1.0 kit from Ebay. They're apparently on the 2.0 generation, and it seems like the 1.0 kit is significant;y cheaper. But it's seriously worth it.

    If I were a kid again, I know something like a mindstorms kit would certainly get me interested in robotics. In fact, what got me interested in robotics initially was a Capsela robotics kit I got for Christmas. It was great having all the pieces and sensors there so whatever I imagined I could create and program. The programs were simple (eg. go forward until bumper press), but I didn't spend hours frustrated and stuck knowing what I wanted to do but unable to do it. Soon enough I graduated honest to god microcontrollers, soldering tools, and C.

    Also I would rethink concentrating on the software side. Most people I know who are in robotics (I know a lot of people in robotics, it's my field) started because they loved building things with their hands. The appeal of robotics is to build something and then give it life. Both parts have to be there for you to foster interest. Getting bogged down in the programming is a bad idea, as it will just lead to frustration and then disinterest, especially if they've never programmed before. Again this seems like a win for Mindstorms.

    tldr: don't be cheap and spend the money. You get what you pay for.

    • by savuporo (658486)
      >>The thing about robotics is there's a great divide between really cool stuff and really lame stuff in terms of price.

      This is just flat out wrong. You can do really really cool stuff relatively inexpensive, you just have to plan and think about what you are trying to do. Arduino and its shields have endless possibilities, and if you pair it with a powerful embedded CPU like any of the Android phones ( Arduino has specific support , ADK ) you can do amazing things.

      Or if an android phone feels too
      • You do realize we're talking about teenagers who have never programmed here? Everything you listed above isn't exactly beginner friendly.

        • by savuporo (658486)
          I can tell that you have never used any of the Arduino kits, a lot of them solderless. Or Basic STAMPs even ?
          • I've used Arduino. Who hasn't? True they're solderless. That's not the deal. We're talking about kids who have never programmed before, and who we're really not sure if they want to program at all. C/C++ is not how I would introduce them to programming. I teach C/C++ at the college level, and if I had my way the cirriculum wouldn't include C at all, or at least toward the end of the semester.

            I agree all the things you mentioned are good once you have some experience, but if you're going to give a kid (again

    • +1 from me on Lego. I've been pursuing hobbyist level robotics for a while now, and I have found nothing even remotely close to what Lego's offer.

      With that in mind, reconsider your budget (a useless toy isnt really saving money), and or look for bargains - used V1 on eBay.

      The Legos allow you to go from simple with a visual programming environment, to very complex( eg LeJOS or MRDS) if a true interest develops.

      And if all else fails, it's still a Lego, build non-robtics stuff.
  • Whatever my brother and I "played with" is what "neef n' not" (my two nephews) found interesting. I had tools to make metal models and dies. My brother made rockets out of everything, usually things he shouldn't have. Both his kids spent more time with him playing with his toy rockets than they did with the latest cool toys. The excitement of blowing shit up, shooting things into the air, and the ability to build their own transformers had more effect than any commercial had on either of them. Long sto

  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Sunday December 18, 2011 @02:36PM (#38417914)

    I signed one of my kids up for FLL ( http://www.firstlegoleague.org/ [firstlegoleague.org] ), and it's worked well. The cost was something like $70 for one season. They use Mindstorms.

    Pros:
    - Kids develop teamwork skills as well as robotics skills
    - More social for the kids than just working at home
    - Each season kids are provided with some reasonable motivating problems. Even though the kids won't really solve them with Lego Mindstorms, it could give some kids a sense of the real good they can do if they pursue S&T careers.

    Cons:
    - Have to drive kids to the meeting every week, sometimes twice/week as end-of-year competition gets close.
    - Kids can't totally choose their own problems, and won't have access to the equipment except during meeting times (probably).

  • My List (Score:5, Informative)

    by MikeD83 (529104) on Sunday December 18, 2011 @02:45PM (#38417980)
    I have about 10+ years of experience with the FIRST Robotics competition. For an "all inclusive robotics" kit you will need to increase your budget. However, electronics and software kits are in budget. Here's my list:

    1. Innovation FIRST's Vex Robtic system. [vexrobotics.com] This is hands down the best system available. The kit is basic enough that you can get something working while also open enough that the possibilities are limitless. You can interface your own custom circuits with it. It comes with default software in source code form that you can modify to whatever you would like. It also has mechanical kits where you can build almost anything. It's also not flimsy. This is one of the most expensive options, but you can start around $300 and add on for years.

    2. Lego Mindstorms [lego.com]I would reccomend this kit for someone younger (8 or so.) It's not quite as extensible mechanically or electrically but is easier to use.

    With those two out of the way and actually answering your post based on the budget, I would recommend a Basic Stamp kit from Parallax [parallax.com]. The kits are aimed at learning electronics and software. They're not a lot to them mechanically, you need additional parts and know-how for that. The kits are low cost and require you to learn. I cut my teeth on the Basic Stamp 2 (BS2) and I turned out to be a successful software engineer.
  • So they're not robots, but if the girls are into fashion it's a a great way to get them started on programming while still keeping their interests in mind, They can make funky pillows for their bedroom or keep out signs for their doors or I dunno something else that a 12 year old girl might actually want. http://www.arduino.cc/en/Main/ArduinoBoardLilyPad [arduino.cc]

  • It's small, fast, pre-built, can be made Arduino compatible, full source available, well documented. At $99 (but you need a $10 AVR programmer and batteries) so it's just outside of your budget. Check it out on youtube.

    But I can highly recommend it - http://www.pololu.com/catalog/product/975 [pololu.com]

  • It's not exactly robotics, but for about $20, my kid is learning a lot about electronics Minecraft through building redstone circuits:
    http://www.minecraft.net/ [minecraft.net]
    http://www.minecraftwiki.net/wiki/Redstone_Circuits [minecraftwiki.net]
    "Redstone circuitry is a feature introduced in Alpha which allows for intricate Redstone wire based mechanisms to be created by players. Redstone circuitry is similar to digital electronics (based on boolean algebra) in real life. t's also possible to use pistons in redstone circuits. "

    You can even bu

  • I will tell you up front that this is a bit on the pricier side, but for construction sets nothing in the world beats Fischertechnik [fischertechnik.biz]. It is used by everyone from small children making toy houses and trucks, to universities in their robotics courses.

    Fischertechnik was designed from the ground for making robust but easy-to-build precision constructs. While I admit that with the more recent Lego stuff one can build very complex and even impressive "machinery", Lego pales in comparison to the engineering, qu
  • Early on something like Lego Mindstorms is good, as others have mentioned. A good thing a bit later on may be experimenting with one of the many free game design engines out there. Something like the Unity engine has a great drag-and-drop IDE compatible with Mac and PC, and supports programming in multiple languages. Simple mini-games and platformer shooters would be a great way to pique their interest if they are so inclined.

  • Such as the Radio Shack kits. They come with text books that walk you through concepts. A bit lower level than a robotics kit but I think it is still worth it. BTW, it sounds like Heath Kit is back!

Life would be so much easier if we could just look at the source code. -- Dave Olson

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