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Robotics: Smart Machines Rovers & Vehicles

Lower Age: 8+
Price: $134.95
Year Added: 2018
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Robotics: Smart Machines Rovers and Vehicles by Thames & Kosmos is a robotics-themed building and programming toy intended for children 8-14. The kit contains everything needed to build each of the eight vehicles in the manual, including: a battery box (requires 3 AA batteries, not included), two motors, an ultrasonic sensor, and the various pins and beams necessary for construction. Controlling the vehicles requires downloading an app on a Bluetooth 4.0-enabled device running at least iOS 8.0 or Android 4.4.


The ultrasonic sensor is perhaps the most important piece of equipment in the set. Every project utilizes it in some way. In fact, the manual sees it as so important that it dedicates a whole page to explaining how it works and where the technology is applied. Although some hobby-grade ultrasonic sensors can be wildly inaccurate, this one is quite good. The instructions for building the vehicles are good, with multiple things happening in each step. This is preferable over “one-at-a-time” steps because it makes kids use a bit of extra spatial reasoning and problem solving to decide which order to combine the pieces in. After the completion of each set of building instructions there’s a small paragraph about the programming of the robot, with sections to write out observations and plans for what the code should/does do.


After constructing the models, they can either be directly controlled or pre-programmed by the app. Direct control is done with two sliders to control the speed and direction of the two motors. Programming is done with a kind of block-programming language which is heavily dependent on the ultrasonic sensor. The full process is explained in the manual, but the short of it is that different sections of code can be run depending on the ultrasonic sensor’s reported distance from an object without having to write the section of code that makes this possible. Providing this as a feature lets kids get right to the programming while avoiding some of the tedium with a functional UI to guide them. Sample programs are provided for each of the vehicles in the manual. When children make their own robots, they have to opportunity to program them from scratch on the app.


Robotics: Smart Machines Rovers and Vehicles is a good introduction to the world of robotics and autonomous programming that has the potential to keep on giving.


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