Help Children Learn to Build and Code
To get ahead in the 21st century, children not only need to be able to use technology but to develop it. That's why so many parents want their kids to learn how to code, and there's no better way to accomplish that task than with a programmable robot kit. There's nothing quite like the thrill of watching a physical machine act out your commands in the real world. Based on our testing and thorough research, here’s our top robot kits picks in every price range -- and for every skill level.
Image Credit: Dmytro Zinkevych / Shutterstock
Quick Buying Tips
When shopping for a robot kit for your child, consider the following:
- Age range:While some robot kits are simple enough for kindergarteners, others target teenagers. Look at the suggested ages on the box or read our reviews.
- Coding language:Most kids’ robots use a block-based programming language that lets kids learn basic concepts such as conditionals, loops and functions, just by dragging boxes around a screen. Look for simpler blocks (or no coding at all) for younger kids and more complex capabilities for teens.
- Building capability: Some robots come complete, while other products give you the pieces to construct a variety of different devices. Kids will get bored less quickly with systems they can modify over time.
- Cost: Robot kits can cost as little as $50 or as much as $500, depending on the number of sensors, motors and building blocks available. Most sit in the $150 to $300 range. Our favorite kit overall, the Lego Boost, goes for $159.
Image Credit: AlesiaKan / Shutterstock
Best Overall: Lego Boost
Ages: 5 - 10
Our favorite robot kit overall, Lego Boost is so simple that even a preliterate child can use its app to learn programming basics. The kit is also extremely flexible, giving you the pieces to build half a dozen different robots, including a robotic cat, a guitar and a WALL•E-like character named Verne. And, since the kit uses Legos, you can create custom projects and add your own bricks to the mix. All bricks aside, its engaging software is Lego Boost's best feature. Available for iOS, Android and some Amazon tablets, the colorful app walks you through the process of building your choice of robots, without using any words in the interface. As you complete each phase of a build, an animated hand shows you which blocks to use for your program and then lets you unlock more capabilities for later.
Best Value: UBTech Jimu BuilderBots Kit
UBTech's Jimu robot kits are among the best, thanks to their fantastic build quality, powerful mobile app and dead-simple build instructions. The company makes over half a dozen different sets, but the BuilderBot kit provides the best combination of value and versatility. For under $100, you get the choice of building two different robots, each with rolling treads for movement, a scoop for grabbing objects, an infrared sensor for avoiding objects and a colorful LED light.
Available for iOS and Android, the Jimu app has the best build instructions we've seen, with great 3D animations of each step and the ability to rotate the image and view from any angle. The durable plastic building blocks look and feel a lot like Lego Technics pieces.,so you can also use them for custom creations.
Using the software, you can manually control your robot or program extremely complex movements. Younger kids will enjoy the build process and manual control, but the very detailed programming feature is better for older children or those with more coding experience.
Meccano's MeccaSpider offers a lot of fun for the money. The robot is built from 291 different parts, including 10 legs, an infrared sensor and a venom shooter that spits out water. You can set the spider to wander randomly around the room, play games or enter attack mode where it shoots at anything in its way. The Mecano app, available for Android or iOS, allows you to program it using a block-based coding language.
littleBits Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit
Ages: 8 - 12
Combining Star Wars with robot education, the Droid Inventor Kit is a rolling barrel of fun with plenty of lessons thrown in. Kids use the parts to build and decorate a moving R2-D2-like astromech droid. The kit features motors, sensors, servos and a control hub, all of which work together to give you a very versatile creation.
Kids use a mobile app to control their Droids or send them on one of 16 different missions. Missions include navigating an obstacle course, carrying secret messages or drawing on a piece of paper.
Wonder Workshop Cue CleverBot
Fortunately, no matter what your skill level, the CleverBot is ready to teach you. Available for Android or iOS, the app gamifies the learning process, teaching you different skills and allowing you to unlock more complicated code as you advance.
Dash Robotics Kamigami
Ages:6+ (with Help)
A series of fun and affordable toys, the Kamigami line consists of a series of bug-like creatures you control and program from your smartphone app. The little waddling robots are easy to control and program from a mobile app, so even young children can enjoy them.
However, the difficult process of folding and snapping the origami-like plastic pieces together will probably require an adult or a teen to help. These robots are most enjoyable when you get more than one and use them to battle your friends.
Tenka Labs Circuit Cubes
An affordable way to teach children about electricity while supercharging their Lego collections, Circuit Cubes are Lego-compatible blocks that feature a battery, a motor and an LED light. You set the electronic components next to the battery and each other or use the included wires to create a circuit.
The kits feature enough pieces to build projects, such as a moving car, a moving pen robot or a colorful flashlight. But the cubes are even more fun when you combine them with your existing Lego sets.
A cute, 12-inch tall automatronic buddy, Meccano M.A.X. is full of personality. The rolling robot features a green LED face, hands that can grip objects and an infrared sensor for avoiding objects as it moves around. You can interact with M.A.X. via voice recognition, a control pad on is body or a mobile app, which you can also use to control him.
M.A.X. tells jokes, plays games and even gives science quizzes. As you do more with M.A.X., you unlock additional features.
Anki Cozmo is an adorable little automaton, but don't be fooled by the bright colors or winking digital face. This robot packs some serious technology inside. Cozmo's built-in camera can recognize faces, and its scoop arm can lift a series of wireless blocks, which it uses to play with you. It will even say your name when it recognizes you. You can also remote-control the robot, and use its camera to look around the house.
When you want to stop playing, and learn how to code, you can use the Code Lab section of the app, which uses MIT's simple Scratch Jr. programming language. By dragging blocks around, even very young children can make Cozmo perform such basic tasks as driving around or dancing. Older kids can write more complex code with conditionals that perform different tasks based on what face it detects.
Lego Mindstorms EV3
While Lego Boost is great for younger kids, preteens and teens will appreciate the power and versatility of the company's Mindstorm EV3. The community support for Mindstorms is tremendous, because it is the most popular and well-established robot kit around.
The EV3 kit comes with the parts to build 17 different types of robot. You can also create your own custom designs. It comes with color, touch and infrared sensors, along with three different motors, all of which connect to Lego blocks.
You can control Mindstorms robots using the included remote control or an app on your mobile device. There's also programming software that runs on a PC or Mac.
Robolink CoDrone Pro
Great for older kids and adults who want to learn and have fun, the RoboLink CoDrone pro gives you a powerful drone and the pieces you need to create a controller for it. The controller is built with an Arduino board, the same kind that grownup hobbyists and electronic builders use. So, if you want to program the CoDrone, you use real, text-based Arduino language. Just like a pro.
For $50 less, you can get the CoDrone Lite, which comes without the controller. It uses a simple block-based language on your phone, and is appropriate for younger kids.
OWI Robotic ARM Edge
One of the most fun things you can do with a robot is make it pick things up. OWI's kit builds an articulating arm with five different motors to control its angle and grip. After the 3-to-5-hour build, you'll be able to move the robot using a wired controller with different joysticks for each joint.
UBTech Jimu Inventor Kit
The big kahuna of UBTech's half-dozen Jimu sets, the Inventor Kit features the parts to build six different robotic animals, including an elephant, a giraffe and a rhino. If you like the BuilderBot but want something even more extensive and expensive, this kit is for you.