Ultimate Programmable Robot Kits Buyers Guide

Looking for a robot that can do more than just walk around and spout some generic speech? Try our recommended selection of programmable robots & kits that push the boundaries of robotics and technology. Everything you need to know about robots, on all skills levels and age is here. We list the 5 most popular robot kits, and lay out the guideline on how to pick the best robot for yourself, your classroom or your kids.

Considerations: Age, Skill-Level, Features & More

Programmable robots are some of the most advanced toys in the market today. These electronic gadgets serve many different functions- as pets, educational medium, or as playthings for kids and the kids at heart alike! They also come in traditional and some very unusual shapes, sizes and degrees of functionality and complexities. When shopping for a programmable robot, it definitely helps to factor in the age of the recipient. Here are also some of the most important features you may consider in order to get the best bang for your buck:

Considerations by Age Level (Kids vs Teens & Adults)

For Kids

Programmable robots that teach the fundamentals of programming and coding to kids. These toys definitely put the “fun” in learning, especially for children who would rather play than read a book. Robots for kids come with features such as matching apps for their smartphones, intuitive gesture and voice controls, and intermediate mechatronics. Robots for kids are moving, keep them learning and entertained at the same time, and more importantly, they should be built to take a beating. Some of the best toy robots are either playable out of the box or require little assembly.

For Teens and Adults

This age group certainly loves a bit of tinkering and construction in their toys, so most of the these are “kits” that need some soldering and tools to put together. Putting a robot together piece by piece is the perfect way to get a hands-on introduction to the world of robotic technology! Most of the parts included are usually compatible with other models so you can customize and get creative later on.

Considerations by Skill Levels (Beginner, Intermediate & Advanced)

Beginner Level

Beginner programmable robot kits are specifically designed with the youngsters in mind and are usually integrated into middle-grade school curriculums. A foray into the fascinating world of robotics can do a lot for the kids- it can foster their imagination and creative drive, learn how new technologies work, and it teaches them how to work as a team. At home, educational robots can stimulate the minds of younger kids, allowing them to develop important skills they can use on different life situations (working cooperatively, problem solving skills and the scientific approach). This passion can also act as fuel for learning, and even work as a catalyst that drives a lifelong interest in robotic science and technology.

Intermediate Level

These robot products are most suitable for those in secondary education. If you take a peek at one of these schools, you may most likely find a Lego Mindstorm set or two, a programmable and buildable Darwin-Mini humanoid toy, and some open source robot on the table or inside children’s backpacks. These intermediate-grade robots can and normally teach about technology, mathematics and different science topics, as well as being the robotic building blocks in an interesting new club!

Advanced Level

Advanced programmable robots blur the line between toys and actual robot hardware- there are a lot of kits and robot packages that allow individuals to wield real hardware. Think of it as the gateway to professional robot building, with each robot offering different levels of complexities and experiences. Kuka’s Youbot, Clearpath’s Turtlebot II, and Rethink Robotics’ Baxter are considered high-quality programmable robots for the advanced user. Working on these products encourage the programmer or engineering student to think of their own robots with unique real-life applications, a boon to any tech institute or university!

Advanced Mobile Robots: The field of advanced robotics is home to machines with beefy processors and sensors, perfect for people who wish to explore artificial intelligence or technical programming more. Eddie with Kinect, Parallax’s Sting Ray, Turtlebot2, PhantomX AX Hexapod and the Arlo Mobile robot are good examples of programmable robots in this platform.

Personal UAVs:Drones and unmanned aerial vehicles are lots of fun! They are also used for a wide variety of industrial purposes. These UAVs can be remote-controlled or even programmed to fly on its own.

Feature Considerations (Power Source, Mobility, Remote Control, etc.)

Power Source

Most interactive toys nowadays need some kind of power source to make them function. Their lights, movement and speech are powered by built-in or removable batteries. The advantage of built-ins is its compactness; this feature also is safer for the younger crowd. These power sources (usually Lithium-Polymer) can be charged via embedded solar panels, through standard power adapter plugs or USB cables.

Mobility

A programmable toy must have a degree of mobility, whether in the form of articulating limbs or being able to move around. Wheels are often employed as robot toys aren’t keen to walking like humans do. They can also jump and fly- RC aircrafts with the use of wings, and drones and quadcopters with the use of blade rotors, are examples of such toys.

Remote Control

One of the most essential features you should look out for are robot toys that you can control remotely. Remotes are normally included in RC robots, but some of the newest ones utilize your smartphone’s ability to download and open remote control apps. The native remotes connect via 2.4GHz frequency, while smartphone app connectivity is usually via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

Interactivity

Interacting with your programmable toy robot is done on different levels. The most basic ones for toddlers and young children are educational, such as changing the LED lights on it. Intermediate robots are programmed to recognize simple words, phrases and commands, while fully-programmable toy robots are available for the discerning robotics hobbyist. Not only do they recognize preset commands, these toys can also learn by themselves and adapt to different scenarios.

Ease of Assembly

Does the programmable robot kit come in as a buy-and-play package, or is some assembly required? If so, are there added tools or soldering needed to start playing? Assembly time can either take a few minutes (for beginner robot toys), or hours and hours of patience (for advanced and complex robotics systems).

The Best Programmable Robots

With hundreds of robots on the market and very affordable you’re sure to find one that’s perfect. They make great toys, educational opportunities and gifts. All these models though could get a bit overwhelming to digest. We’ve done extensive research to help bring to you the best robots. We also discuss below some alternates in each category in case these models don’t strike your fancy. The table below is designed to narrow your search to the best of each category.

Scoring Criteria

Our 100+ hours of research includes user reviews (both positive and negative), features, price, age level, skill level, industry feedback, manufacturer reputation, product design and durability, expandability, learning potential and assembly requirements.

With each “best of” model you’ll see: category winner, pricing comparison, user rating and recommended age group. To check the current price click “Check Price” or “Add to Cart”.


The Best Of The Best – LEGO Mindstorms EV3 31313

Tech Specs

The EV3 Brick is powered by a hefty ARM9 processor and has Wi-Fi for internet connectivity. USB ports are available, as a MicroSD card reader. LEGO Mindstorm package includes color, touch, infrared sensors, Technic elements, 3 servo motors and a remote control. Use your Mac or PC, or download an app off your smartphone to control the robot via an intuitive, drag and drop interface. There are 4 more building instructions and a wealth of bonuses being offered at LEGO.com/mindstorms.

Lego Mindstrom EV3 Review

Lego Mindstorm EV3 Programmable Robot Kit Variations

Remember the countless hours spent in front of a million LEGO bricks scattered here, there and everywhere? Now you can do the same thing, with an added feature of bringing it to animatronic life, with LEGO Mindstorms!

LEGO Mindstorm offers users the power to build their personal robots, then control it with a myriad of choices available to them. Everything is intuitively made, from the fantastic drag and drop programming interface, the controls, to the multitude of available modules to make your LEGO Mindstorm a fearsome programmable robot machine. These toys come in with pre-programmed commands from the get go, giving users a sneak peek of how far you can go with these fun toys. Have them navigate around set obstacles, or shoot balls at infrared targets- the potential is simply endless! There’s a choice of sensors, components, motors, and more than 900 bricks in each kit. Beyond the physical parts, opening up an EV3 toy offers entertainment that’s very addictive.

The heart and brain of a LEGO Mindstorm is the EV3 Brick. The Brick houses a powerful ARM9 processor that is more than capable of any robot programming task you can throw at it. There’s four output motor ports, four sensor ports, a mini USB and a full-size USB port for connecting the Brick to a PC, and a built-in speaker. There are three interactive servo motors and some 500-plus Technic pieces for assembling your robot with. Sensors are aplenty- there’s infrared, touch and color sensors to satiate your creativity.

You have the capability to build the main model as soon as you open the kit. You can go off-tangent and make the robot GRIPP3R, SPIK3R, or any of the bonus builds CRAWLER and COBRA. SPIK3R is a six-legged menace with a quick, deadly tail. You can make it turn sharply, or let it open and close its claws menacingly. GRIPP3R is a muscle-bound machine who loves to lift things with its solid and powerful hands.

Lego Mindstorm EV3 Alternate Model Concepts

Fans are so in love with the Mindstorms that they have created their own unique builds. There’s some bonus content right there! You can download the instructions and the programming software for it off LEGO’s Mindstorms page. Now can you see why LEGO Mindstorms is a fan favorite in classrooms and in hobby circles? There are even expansion packs available to take the learning, fun and experience even further! The basics of science, technology, engineering, programming and a ton of fun features make the Mindstorm a must-buy.

Lego Mindstorm EV3 Education Pack

Looking for a Lego Mindstorm EV3 that has EVERYTHING you need for education and classroom? No problem. Lego has prepared just the kid you need with full access to all home models and educational models. Learn more about the kit contents and pricing here.

Added features include:

  • Added sensors Gyro and Ultrasonic
  • Rechargeable battery
  • Education kit build both home edition and education kit robots
  • Plastic storage bin for all parts
  • Additional pieces for educators
Check Education Specific Pricing

Lego Mindstorm Apps

EV3 Programmer App

Program your EV3 straight from your phone or tablet with this app!

Download on App Store Download on Apple Store

Robot Commander App

Steer and control your robot from your smartphone or tablet

Download on App Store Download on Apple Store

Best Value Robot – Makeblock mBot Educational Robot Kit

mBot is probably the easiest programmable robot to handle. Kids won’t have a frustratingly hard time with it- in fact, some kids master it only after a few minutes of playing with it. The original plan was to make mBot is probably the easiest programmable robot to handle the ultimate teaching tool for kids to learn the fundamentals of programming, robotics, and Arduino as a whole. Arduino is the programming platform of choice, as people from all over the world use it whenever they need a quick starter for their projects, and it is most suitable for novices. The mBlock software won’t require your children to learn tedious coding, and instead replaces all that with a simple icon dragging, which works! It wins the best value prize because all of those features are packed in one affordable kit. One mBot per kid is fast becoming a reality- a goal Makeblock had in mind when they created this fascinating programmable robot.

The mBot teaches STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math) so efficiently that you won’t need any other programmable robot. The low entry price, coupled with a robot that can be constructed within a matter of minutes makes the mBot the best value robot on the list.


Other Robots to Consider

For Adults

ROBOTIS Bioloid Premium Kit

Bioloid kits put you at the helm of a wide variety of robots. Fancy a robot humanoid or a mecha-scorpion? Then you can’t go wrong with this one. Each kit has a renowned Dynamixel servomotor, and some kits are specifically designed for teaching various educational concepts.

This DIY programmable robot makes use of “servo blocks” to foster creativity in building your very own robot. You can choose from a variety of sensors and mobility features, then add some processing units for intelligence. The Bioloid robots take customization a step further with transparent humanoid skin you can design. Zigbee wireless control, C-style motion and programming, and an adjustable posture round out its unique features.


Tamiya Tracked Vehicle Chassis Kit

Tamiya Tracked Vehicles traverse over obstacles easy and makes short work of rough terrain. You can buy one kit for starters, then get add-ons in the form of accessories to make the original vehicles bigger and provide more functionality. If you’re excited about getting a stock vehicle and customizing it according to your preferences, then the Tamiya is the one for you. For added mobility, get the double gearbox. Takes a while to build.


WowWee MiP Robot

At first glance, the Wowee Mip looks like a tiny human, but with wheels instead of legs. The Mip is updated to be controlled via an app you can download on your smartphone. It also has some smart sensors that allow you to control the Mip using hand movement and objects. With a wave of your hand, you can direct the Mip where to go.

The wheels allow the Wowee Mip to roll around forwards or backwards in one easy motion. It can turn suddenly and spin in place without falling; it can even carry small things around without falling over! The RGB LED sensors located in its eyes can follow things unerringly and navigate through obstacles placed in its path. If you’re tired of having your Mip balance things while moving or spinning in place, there are other modes to try- have it dance, or learn using the Programming mode.


For Teens

Parallax Robotics Kits

The Boe-Boe Robot
Parallax Gripper Robot Kit
The ActivityBot Robot Kit
Parallax ActivityBot

Parallax offers a good selection of programmable robots, each with different features and accessories that add some robotic capabilities. The BoeBoe Robot is ever popular among hobbyists, educators and students throughout the globe, while the ActivityBot Robot Kit encourages real-world engineering skills perfect for for first-time robot-builders.


Darwin Mini

Build your own humanoid and choose what it does- make it walk, do the robot dance, or practice some mini kung-fu moves for endless entertainment. Darwin Mini is mainly a STEM education robot, but is still perfect for teens looking for a genuine robotics experience.


OWI-536 All Terrain 3-in-1 RC Robot Kit – ATR

OWI All Terrain 3-in-1 RC is such a versatile toy that it can be transformed into three different ways. The track modules allow the robot to turn into machine variations such as the gripper, rover and the forklift. The package includes a wired controller to command your OWI to turn, move forwards and backwards, or to lift, turn and grip objects. Forklift mode turns your OWI into a carrying and stacking machine that would make any superstore proud. Rover mode makes it into a capable machine which traverses difficult terrain easily. The gripper mode is your go-to mode if you want something without moving your legs. With it, the ATR lifts up and brings any object up to 100g in your grasp. Create modules by pulling apart and putting them back together- your imagination is the only limit. The good thing is that teens won’t need any engineering or tech know-how to operate the ATR and get it running.


For Kids

Cubelets

Cubelets are small magnetic cubes designed to build functional robots and machines simply by sticking them together! You won’t need soldering tools and all that assembly equipment. The robot’s behavior depends on how you constructed the Cubelets. Want a crash course of structural design and function without the complications of assembly? Give the Cubelets a shot.


Thymio II

Who says that programming shouldn’t be fun, or funny? The Thymio II has a wonderful screen that adds color and humor to the mix. The LED lights blink and the The Thymio II responds well, making it a popular beginner’s choice for kids.


Scribbler 2

The Scribbler 2 is an excellent robot toy for teaching programming courses. It is an open-source device and equipped with interesting sensors that do many things. The programming courses have varying degrees of difficulty to ease you in the fascinating world of robotics.


Sphero 2.0

The Sphero 2.0 is back and better than ever! In addition to having more sensors and LED lights, this robot can talk with your Android or iOS devices via Bluetooth, bringing in even more amazing functions and features than its predecessor. The protective shell is made of high quality makrolon, which protects the sensitive equipment inside even after a 1 meter fall. The Sphero 2.0 has some excellent learning tools you can access by downloading SPRK lessons on the web. You can browse and download basic programming or play with the Sphero a bit more to find out some more stuff you can do with it.


Ollie

Ollie is the more adventurous cousin of Sphero, coming in from the same manufacturer. This programmable robot is faster and can move around obstacles placed in its path. Use your smartphone and connect via Bluetooth to make it flip, drift, spin and run wild! Something this fun takes a while to get the hang of. The built-in LED lights change depending on its status- i.e. it turns red when at rest. This nifty robot toy can be customized accordingly with a dazzling array of hubcaps and wheels to navigate outdoor and indoor terrain.


Ozobot Bit 2.0

If Ozobot can be described in one word, then the most likely description would be “candy”. The Ozobot’s function depends on what you program it to do. You can draw line patterns called “OzoCodes”, and the robot will see it with the built-in sensors and follow it perfectly. You can create some patterns, a maze or even an obstacle course with it and make Ozobot run through it. Children can learn logical thinking and basic coding skills, or just tellOzobot to dance if they want to have some fun.


PLEO rb

Could PLEO be short for pleosaurus? Because the appearance certainly looks like it. This toy robot teaches kids all about life cycles and biology in general. The creators wanted to mimic life with it, so the PLEO rb moves and thinks like a real animal, with robotic parts inside. This programmable robot is aware of its surroundings, exhibits real emotions and has a limited range of body language. It responds to how well and how often your kid interacts with it- given enough time, it can be a self-sufficient dinosaur who knows how to correctly interact with the surrounding environment.


HEXBUG VEX Robotics Ant

STEM Learning is HEXBUG’s main forte, which means that hands-on play is encouraged, letting your young ones construct their very own robot and select which programs to run with. The Ant is a Frankenstein-esque product of 150 snap pieces and an electronic brain to give it intelligence. The Robotics Ant can be driven with a remote, or you can choose to let it rein free via autonomous drive mode, to which it will mimic ant movements and scurry here and there. You can have more than one Ant, because HEXBUG Ants are cross-compatible with other models. Interlocking gears, dual bump sensors and six wheels round out the package. It can run around or even traverse various obstacles placed in its way. Tired of having limited options? The HEXBUG Ant has a whopping 64 programs to choose from. Simply flip the brain’s lid over and try out different switch combinations. Experimenting and discovering what each program does is one of the fun parts this programmable robot can do!


For Absolute Beginners

Modular Robotics MOSS Exofabulatronixx 5200 Model Kit

Robot lovers will get a kick out of the MOSS Exofabulatronixx Model Kit, whether they are experienced or novices. Each block may look the same, but these building “modules” are very different when it comes to overall function. Move them around by using your own Android or iOS device. This programmable robot is much like the Cubelets, as complete beginners can just pick them up and play. The MOSS Exofabulatronixx Model Kit for those who want to jump in robotics with little to no knowledge required!


Robotis Dream

Is there a way to ease in complete novices to the intimidating world of programming and robotics? You bet there is. Robotis DREAM is virtually a dream come true for people of all ages. The total learning process is divided into 3 parts. Dream Level 1 is a robotics kit for the basics. Dream Level 2 teaches how a robot moves and what makes it move- a series of sensors, wheels, force, speed and gait. Dream Level 3 features 12 new robot kits with entirely new parts, like the introduction of an infrared sensor or servomotor, to outline the many ways to build your own personal robot. For the class rom you’ll find the STEM level 2 kit to be VERY comprehensive.


OWI 14 in 1 Educational Scholar Robot

If you’re just getting your feet wet in robot toys, then the OWI is a great starter kit. One, the OWI 14 in 1 is powered by solar energy. It can also change its form into 14 different robots for maximum fun. You won’t need to worry about batteries, because all you need is to lay it out on the sun, and presto- charged again. This product can supplement development and at-home learning educational curriculums.


C++

Arduino-based robots are programmable through the use of I/O within the Arduino boards. You can utilize the I/O to direct how they move with sensor and motor equipment. Why Arduino? It simply is the best platform for C++ programmers. It is flexible enough to be used by hobbyists and educators alike.

Makeblock Educational Starter Robot Build Kit

Aluminum Frame Blue for Arduino Learners (IR Version)

Robotics enthusiasts will recommend this toy as your starting point in learning about Arduino programming, electronics and robotics in particular. You can manipulate the tech pieces to either build a three-wheeled car or a robot tank if you fancy it. Set aside those soldering iron as you won’t need it with this product. This starter kit is a one-stop solution that brings in robotics and STEM learning, powered by Scratch 2.0’s intuitive, drag-and-drop graphical interface.


Robolink 11 in 1 Educational Starter Robot kit

You know how the maxim goes: more is better, especially in robotics! This kit requires no soldering and it doesn’t yet include batteries. Get creative and build robots with specific functions: a Game Robot, Edge-Detection Robot, Rubberband Gun Robot, Line-Following Robot and much more, all housed within the Arduino platform. The Robolink contains electronic modules and mechanical parts to get you going.


ArcBotics Sparki, The Easy DIY Arduino Robot

Sparki is your best friend when it comes to entry-level robotics and coding. Elementary kids, robotics educators, DIY enthusiasts and instructors will find Sparki a joy to interact with! Rarely is there a robot kit that be so simple yet offer a challenge to even the most experienced pro. You will learn how to solve mazes, have your Sparki follow lines, avoid edges, retrieve objects, shape drawing and have it hide or follow various light sources. Programming is handled by C and C++, with a drag and drop interface, open for all.

Final Thoughts

In this article, we took the tedious out by picking only the best programmable robot toys among the hundreds available in the market. Dive into the fascinating world of robotics and programming by getting your own programmable robot today. The best robots aren’t just merely toys; they are innovation, engineering and technology rolled into one mind-blowing package!

We’ll try to keep this guide up to date with new models as they come available so check back often if you’re in the market for a Robot or Robot Kit.

Discussion Time!

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