It is a good time to play with little robots

In the previous two posts, mentioned the low-cost small devices are opening up new opportunities for robotics ( and the rise of social robots in the home ( was considered.

In this post and the next, 'small' robots (my phrase), relatively low cost robots, are considered. A few examples are discussed.


One of the most interesting small robots on the market is the PicoBot from 4Tronix ( 

These are small, relatively low-cost robots with a good range of basic sensors based around Arduino. A nice feature is they are quick to put together (5-10 minutes each for the two above).  The size, time to build and the radio modules make them an interesting option for playing with swarm robotics - if only I had the money.

Don't let the swarm robot idea put you off, as small robots to play with programming they are excellent in their own right. Being small with the ultrasonic sensors gives them an non-threatening/cute look; add in they have some build it programs to play with (select by buttons on the bot) to get you going without any programming.


CrumbleBot ( is based around the Crumble Controller ( providing i think an intuitive graphical interface (similar to Scratch) to control two motors and four inputs/outputs. The CrumbleBot comes with line-detecting sensors and Light-Dependent Resistors for light detection, with a few other features that I have yet to play with. So is nice little framework for simple robotics. Make sure you order the Crumble Controller at the same time as CrumbleBot.

So I wanted to experiment with making a edge following robot - where the robot goes around a line by following the edge of the line. The idea is while make small movements,

  • Check that one of the sensors is on the line (in my case the right sensor);
  • If that sensor detects the line, then pull the robot to the left slightly and then forward a small step;
  • If the sensor does not detect the line, the pull the robot to the right slightly.

Makeblock ( developed mBot Educational Robot with the subtitle "$49 educational robot for each kid". What they came up with is a interesting system that uses their mBlock software, which resembles Scratch but produces code for Arduino. 

My impression so far it is really quite intuitive to work with, in the example below I fairly quickly got the robot:

  • moves forward;
  • displays 'f' on the LED matrix; 
  • turns right;
  • displays 'r' on the LED matrix;
  • repeats until the on-board is pressed to stop the motors. 

 What I like most though is seeing the graphical code turned into Arduino code - the potential to see the same thing done into two ways adds extra educational value. 

Dash and Dot

Wonder Workshop ( produce the Dash & Dot robots (see picture above). It is hard not to be charmed by these robots, they are cute, easy to use, download the Apps and you are ready to go almost out of the box - and add to this an easy to use but fairly powerful tool for developing programming.

 Blockly, available as one of apps, can be used to program the robots. It is a simple looking graphical language (simpler looking but similar to Scratch). A simple example (shown opposite) where Dash (the bigger of the two) does things such as  moves forward,  going left, lights change to orange, , left ear changes colour, head moves forward and it roars like a dinosaur. It relatively easy to then add loops and test (such as checking if it's 'friend' Dot is in view). Below is a very short video of Dash moving around until it 'sees' Dot.

It is difficult not to anthropomorphise these, especially when they are left alone they try and attract your attention with noises. They are just fun as well.

Recently, other developers have been producing alternative programming approaches. The Tickle App ( has added these robots to their supported devices.

Now what?
There are new robots coming out all the time at the moment.

As an example an exciting project by Robotix called Phiro ( with two versions aimed 4-8 years using swipe cards to program it or one aimed at 9-18 years (and probably a lot older) programmed with a variety of programming languages. The robot can be linked with LEGO bricks, a definite plus. Being able to program it on PC or smartphones is a great feature.

Two others Ringo and Wink developed by Plum Geek are interesting. Ringo, which is out now, is a simple looking and relative inexpensive, arduino-based robot that is actually has quite a few sensors (accelerometers, gyros, line-following, light) and has some predefined routines installed. As it is arduino-based, it is programmable as well. Wink is a new robot that is, at the time of writing, a kickstarter project ( aimed a teaching programming and based on many of the parts from Ringo.

The next post will consider some of the interesting software that is providing some fun opportunities.

All opinions in this blog are the Author's and should not in any way be seen as reflecting the views of any organisation the Author has any association with.


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