In mid-August I received a Solarbotics Beetlebot robot kit for review. According to my friend at Evergreen Solar, this is a beginners, no-solder kit featuring a simple bump-and-turn robot that looks kinda like a beetle, especially when you add the stickers Solarbotics includes:
Since this is a simple, no solder kit intended for young kids, I figured it would not be fully fair to build and review it by myself. I recruited my friend Ben who volunteered his son Shion (8yo, 3rd grade). We set up for a sunday afternoon build and dinner. Shion’s brother Hugh, and Shion’s friend Connor (4th grade) were both there and excited about the robot. We unpacked the kit, putting the screws and other small parts into small bowls so they didnt get lost.
The other boys helped a bit at first, reading directions and helping with screws, but enthusiasm waned a bit when it became apparent this is really a one-person project. Shion kept at it, with a bit of help from myself and his dad on occasion and was able to complete the build in about 1hr 45min. He said it was lots of fun. The best part was figuring out the wiring and hooking it up. (wait till we try the arduino breadboard kits on him!) He thought the BeetleBot would be a good kit to do with his fellow scouts. He also thought it should have a solar cell on it since the company is called “Solarbotics”. Sounds like a lesson in hacking is due!
I’d recommend having a kit for each kid, and having a few parents hanging around to help out. However, parents need to be careful about jumping in and doing too much! Enthusiastic dads need to curb their enthusiasm and remember its the kid’s project. (not that Ben and I jumped in too much… just general advice).
The instructions that come with the kit need a bit of work for this level of audience. Perhaps some drawings instead of photographs to illustrate some steps. Step 5 was misprinted in our kit and an errata page was included. Some of the screw holes were very tight and hard for kids to handle. Other holes seemed quite loose. Running the screws through holes first may help thread the holes. Some other review sites have recommended hot glue to hold loose screws.
Ground clearance was an issue for us on first tests, causing the bot to not move or to move in a tight circle. This wasn’t mentioned in the instructions, but we found the battery case and some other underside items may contact the ground. Having a flat surface (table) with light behind it allows you to look between and find contact points that can be adjusted around. Tightening screws and setting the tail drag height fixed these.
Overall I found it to be a pretty decent kit for kids of about this age (7-9) with adult supervision. Check out some of the other reviews for additional info and hints: