LEGO 31062 Toy Creator Robo Explorer Robot Kit
Last updated date: July 8, 2020
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There's plenty of repeat playability in the LEGO Creator Robo Explorer. The same set of pieces can be configured into a robot rover, dog or bird with light-up components. And while they're not actually programmable, they are challenging enough to inspire young model builders. In our analysis of 91 expert reviews, the LEGO LEGO Toy Creator Robo Explorer Robot Kit placed 6th when we looked at the top 15 products in the category. For the full ranking, see below.
Editor's Note July 8, 2020:
Checkout The Best Robot Kit for a detailed review of all the top robot kits.
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An Overview On Robot Kits
Technology can be a roadblock for modern-day parents, but it doesn’t have to be. Sure, it may seem like there’s constant competition for your child’s attention. Between their TV, video games and an endless array of increasingly connected (and concealable) gadgets, it can be hard to hold a kid’s attention for five minutes, much less spark their curiosity.
For a lot of young minds, the best approach might not be to rein in the tech but lean into it. For kids who are already immersed in the still-evolving Internet of Things, a robot kit might be just the ticket to get them playing with something outside of a screen (at least partially). And the right robot kit can teach them key concepts about programming that will really pay off in the form of a future STEM career.
That stands for science, technology, engineering and math, for the uninitiated — all concepts that are put to good use in robotics. And if you think your child might be too young to be programming ‘bots, think again. There are some surprising toys out there that can appeal to grade-schoolers of any level.
Robot kits can involve a variety of materials. Straight out of the box, they might look like anything from a series of blocks to a jumble of complex circuits and sensors. Fully built, they can take the form of traditional, bipedal sci-fi robots to armored animals or even abstract geometric shapes. Robot kits for the youngest youngsters, though, will likely involve the fewest parts. With a little help, even 4 or 5-year-olds should be able to put together character toys like R2-D2 using a series of magnetized bricks. At any age level, the building stage should be a sneaky way to school your child on engineering basics.
Depending on what form they take and what sensors they’re equipped with, the completed robot might be able to do anything from simple back-and-forth movements to fetching objects or other multi-stage tasks. If they’re a drone, they might even fly and do aerobatic tricks. It will be up to their creator to tell them what to do, and that programming stage is when the real fun (and learning) begins. When you think “programming,” you might picture endless lines of code in an obscure computer language, but at its root, programs are simple instructions. Robot kits — at least, those for the younger set — boil those instructions down to their fundamentals.
“Robot kits can come in many forms,” says Molly Thornberg, a parenting and technology expert and the brains behind the Digital Mom Blog. “See if the kit is for one-time use, or if it’s modular. Modular kits allow multiple uses and ways to create your robot.”
For ages up to 9 or so, that might take the form of a drag-and-drop interface on an app, or something as simple as a series of buttons to press on the robot itself. When it’s done right, kids will get the joy of bossing around their new creation, but they’ll also have learned a little something about the order of operations and logic.
For tweens and early teens, robot kits typically start getting more granular with their programming. The work will typically be done on an app, and the programmer might have to issue individual commands to each limb that enable the robot to walk, for example. The robots themselves might be harder to build, but they’ll also be more versatile.
Robot kits for teens and older builders will start getting into full-fledged programming, using languages that have applications beyond just one project. The robots will require their budding mad scientists to wire up their own circuits and sensors. The programming will likely be done on an app, through a platform such as Arduino or Raspberry Pi. Arduino is a particularly popular way to program everything from robots to “smart” devices for household use. It involves a series of hardware components, all programmable by an open-source motherboard that can generally run programs in a series, one at a time.
Raspberry Pi is a more general-purpose computer that can be linked up with a nearly endless series of peripherals. It too is open source and uses Linux software to run its programs.
Whatever age level you’re buying for, make sure you’re supervising the process — but not too closely. The whole idea is to let their young minds loose and allow them to discover the possibilities of tech in the real world.
DWYM Fun Fact
What’s the biggest robot in the world? There are actually as many subcategories for this title as there are applications for robotics. But let’s face it: We’re all thinking of those big, walking metal monsters from films like “Pacific Rim” and cartoons like “Voltron.” And in that category, leave it to the Japanese to fulfill our wildest nerd dreams.
A Japanese company called Sakakibara Kikai currently holds the title for the largest humanoid vehicle with a 27-foot, 9-inch tall giant MONONOFU (that’s Japanese for “samurai”). It’s directly inspired by the robot warriors of Japanese anime, right down to the pilot capsule in the chest. The overachieving engineers actually made it too big to leave the hangar that it was created in, so it has to be partially disassembled in order to go out on test drives. So much for a rapid response in case of a Godzilla attack!
The Robot Kit Buying Guide
- Buying robot kits for younger builders is generally going to be easy. Everything will be contained in the kit, and the only thing you might need to add would be a laptop, tablet or smartphone for the programming app. Once you get into advanced kits, it’s best to do a little research even if you’re tackling so-called “starter sets.” If you’re making a circuit board from scratch, it’s a good possibility you might need a soldering iron. And even some all-inclusive sets might require a cordless screwdriver or wrench, at least to save time.
- If we haven’t made it clear in the buyer’s guide, age and experience plays a big role in exactly what kind of robot kit to buy. And while your child might be plenty smart for their age, keep durability in mind when buying them a kit. A particularly tech-savvy 6-year-old might well be able to build and even program an intermediate level robot with your help, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to play gently with it once you’re out of the room. Make sure that at least the electronic parts are sturdy, because smashed robots can be an expensive lesson in responsibility.
- How will you do the programming on your robot? Commands are what makes a robot a robot, after all. If your kit includes a controller, you’re all set. But even some ‘bots for grade-schoolers require you to download an app instead. Certainly, that will save you some money on components, but you’ll want to make sure you have a tablet or other device you can dedicate to the cause. How much space will the app take up? Does it require a subscription to use? Does it need to be verified on a laptop or can you just download it onto a smartphone and start coding directly from there? All good questions to have answered before you buy.
- Speaking of apps and controllers, you’ll want to know how they communicate with the robot. Dedicated remote controllers like the ones used by RC cars, will operate on a certain frequency (typically 2.4 GHz). If that’s the case, make sure you operate your robot in a place where there aren’t other RC toys around or their own controllers might interfere with the signal. You (or they) might be able to switch frequencies for an easy fix. In the case of apps, they’ll connect by way of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. If it’s the latter, make sure you’re taking your robot for a spin where the signal is strong.
- If it’s a robot, it needs power. In most cases, that will be supplied by rechargeable batteries. In some ‘bots, you might need to supply your own traditional ones. Even the rechargeable ones will need to be juiced up periodically, so make sure they start with a charge. Some might even operate on solar power, which is great — as long as it’s efficient and you’re outdoors enough for it to matter.
- It’s a great thrill watching a robot execute your commands for the first time. That feeling can fade pretty fast if your robot doesn’t do that much, though. Whether it’s for young builders or old, versatility is key. Robots like those in the Lego Mindstorms series offer tweens lots of repeat playability in their multiple builds, where different configurations of the same robot can perform different tasks. Older engineers can keep their curiosity satisfied by kits that use the modular Arduino platform, where the same base software can be used for multiple applications.
- Keep all of your robot kit’s bits and pieces in one place. “Kids have a tendency to lose parts and pieces,” says our tech and parenting pro Thornberg. “Either keep the box the robot kit comes in, or have another box handy.”