Now part of the Arduino AtHeart program, Makeblock is looking help children learn how to program through a user-friendly kit, software and interface.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a number of easy-to-use robotic kits become available for young Makers in hope of inspiring them to pursue STEM-related fields. Among the more notable companies looking to spur this initiative is Shenzhen startup Makeblock with their low-cost educational robot.
In the company’s pursuit of an O.R.P.K (or “One Robot Per Kid”) world, mBot was designed to be a comprehensive solution that would provide children with a hands-on experience around graphical programming, electronics and robotics. With simplicity in mind, the kit is comprised of only 45 or so pieces, enabling a sense of achievement for kids to quickly assemble in 10 minutes.
Given the popularity of Scratch 2.0 as a graphical programming software in the classroom setting, the Makeblock team has developed a new line of Scratch-based software — aptly named mBlock — that uses a similar coding style to configure Arduino and robots. The drag-and-drop software is entirely free and supports both Window and Mac operating systems. Beyond that, mBlock supports wireless communication, allowing Makers to use either Bluetooth or 2.4GHz wireless serial to ‘talk’ with its accompanying mBot. The program is also compatible with Arduino Uno (ATmega328) and Leonardo (ATmega32U4) boards, as well as Makeblock’s own Arduino variant, the mCore.
Powered by an ATmega328, each mBot board features intuitional color labels and four easy-to-follow RJ25 connectors. This lets Makers wire the unit in a matter of seconds, and more importantly, provides them with a hassle-free way to focus on actually devising all sorts of interactive projects — ranging from robots that can avoid walls and follow lines to play music and duke it out in a fight.
The friendly blue robot is currently being offered in a pair of models based on its communication capabilities. The Bluetooth version, which is equipped with a Bluetooth module, is suitable for individual or team use; whereas the 2.4G version, which features two 2.4G wireless modules, is intended for the classroom. Aside from that, each kit consists of a chassis, two motors, an ultrasonic sensor, a line follower, a remote controller, a buzzer, some RGD LEDs, an mCore, and a few other electronic components. mBot can be powered by either a rechargeable lithium battery or four-1.5V AA batteries.
“We designed specially two available wireless communication instead of wired USB cable, so users can enjoy wireless programming to control robots without the limit of USB cable,” the team explains. “The chassis is compatible with Lego and Makeblock parts. And you can use on-hand Raspberry Pi or standard Arduino boards to learn more about electronics or bring kid’s more ideas to life.”
Not only did it garner more than $285,00 from 2,500-plus backers on Kickstarter earlier this year, Makeblock’s mBot has now become a member of the growing Arduino AtHeart program.