5 Best Robotics kits to get you started

I think everyone should try their hand at robotics. It's not particularly difficult if you start out with a kit, or have someone to help you out. The main reason I've heard for people disliking it, is they get frustrated because they can't figure something out, and have no one to ask. That is the purpose of this blog! I hope to help as much as I can. About that kit...


Here are the best 5 kits for beginners (as far as I know) in no particular order...

Note: The "Where to buy it" links go to amazon, where most (if not all) the kits are cheaper than the official prices given in this article.

1. Lego: Mindstorms NXT
Official Website | Where to buy it

I found this one, while simple, to be quite fun and very easy. Great for kids, and adults new to electronics, but be prepared to fall in love with robotics and move on to bigger, more complicated platforms. Plus you can do all your programming using the official Lego program! No code! Of course, if you want to, you can use other methods to program it, using a variety of languages including C/C++, and java.

Open Source: no
Price: $250
Easiness: 5/5
Programming language: Visual/GUI
Windows: Yes
Mac: Yes
Linux: Unofficial*
Blogs: nxtbot - thenxtstep - nxtasy


2. Parallax: Boe-bot
Official Website | Where to buy it

Parallax' primary platform is the basic stamp, which the Boe-bot, and many other robots are based on. While this kit requires a little more electronics know-how (though they do a good job explaining things in the included book), the programming language is Basic. If you've had any experience with QBasic, Visual Basic, VB.net, or VBScript you're in luck! If not, it's very easy to learn, hence the name, basic. Here's the kicker: it supports Microsoft's Robotics Studio.

Open Source: no
Price: $150
Easiness: 4/5
Programming language: PBasic
Windows: Yes
Mac: Yes
Linux: Unofficial* (The official program works in wine though)
Blogs: Mentioned on many...


3. Vex Labs: VEXplorer
Official Website | Where to buy it

This one is similar in nature to the boe-bot, but the mechanical parts included with the kit are akin to an erector set. The kit allows you to build lots of things right off the bat, limited only by your imagination, but beware... your imagination may lead you to expensive projects! I'd say this kit is a little easier than the boe-bot in terms of concepts and necessary knowledge, but not necessarily easier to learn on. In that regard they're about equal. The problem with this kit is it's not programmable without buying the programming kit for another $100.

Open Source: no
Price: $200
Easiness: 4/5
Programming language: Visual/GUI + EasyC
Windows: Yes
Mac: No
Linux: No
Blogs: Mentioned on many...


4. Hitec: Robonova-I
Official Website | Where to buy it

This is a ROBOT for robot lovers! While a little pricey, building and programming it provides valuable experience, and when you're done you'll be able to awe everyone with your humanoid robot! This is really only a good first robot if you already know a little about electronics or programming.

Open Source: no
Price: $1000
Easiness: 2/5
Programming language: C or Basic
Windows: Yes
Mac: No
Linux: No
Blogs: mentioned on many...


5. Arduino: Arduino Starter Pack
Official Website | Where to buy it


Arduino is a little more complex, but it's basically on par with the basic stamp (The Boe-bot's platform). It's been touted as the 'basic stamp killer' because it's smaller, cheaper, open-source, and now has many, many online tutorials/how-to articles. I personally love arduino and it's my personal recommendation to anyone who really wants to learn about electronics, and robotics... especially if you use Linux. However, there's not preset end goal with this one, you have to decide what you want to make yourself (look here for ideas).

Open Source: Yes
Price: $65
Easiness: 3/5
Programming language: C/C++
Windows: Yes
Mac: Yes
Linux: Yes
Blogs: Official Blog - Make: blog


I would like to give iRobot's 'Create' an honorable mention, but I did not include it because it's not a kit. However Turk has some neat 'recipies' for it as well as the Qwerk.

* Indicates that support is provided by a third party. Basically, you can get it to work, but you're not going to be able to use the official software.

 
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