mBot SPC Makeblock, a mini-robot with Arduino to teach how to program the smallest

MBot SPC Makeblock

Although recent birth, the educational robot mbot of Makeblock already carved a niche in a booming market, such as educational technology. Its virtues: easy, simple, versatile and, above all, economic.

Today we analyze the mBot of Makeblock, and we talk about its assembly, the first steps and the possibilities that it offers as an educational tool for learning programming through robotics. What can a robot of less than 100 dollars offer us? Let’s look at it below.

MBot: The toy

The range of robots mbot of Makeblock is a series of toys, with all of the law. Or so you have: created by makeblock after a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012, the company has continued to design, develop and by selling different models of robots.

Of these, mBot is the simplest and best positioned to education, and is also the closest thing to a kind of simple vehicle. Simple: wheels, motors and a small turning mechanism, prepared with a few sensors (distance, light, sound) to expand its possibilities.

MBot SPC Makeblock
Image Source: Google Image

Our test unit does not differ at all from which can be found through other distributors, it has been sent by SPC-Makeblock, a Spanish company based in Vitoria-Gasteiz which distributes officially.

This model is, in fact, belonging to a previous generation, since Makeblock has put on sale a few months ago a new version with some improvements like a protective casing, but with the same base of construction and ideas to teach about the world of programming and robotics.

The value SPC-Makeblock provides is not so much the hardware (the robot as such), but by the more theoretical and didactic portion surrounding him offer guides, manuals and tutorials to exploit its potential , as an instruction on his use. This material is released in part on their website, but also has classroom courses in which to learn ‘in-situ’ on this and other products.

Assembly, installation and first steps

In recent years, many companies are entering the market for educational robotics with their own products. Examples are everywhere, although perhaps the most recognized are those of the Danish LEGO WeDo and its Mindstorm and. However, other giants like Meccano, Sphero or Parrot, or many other inventions of individuals or small businesses such as the Dash and Dot we discussed a year ago.

The assembly of mBot is very simple, and it will hardly take you a few minutes. Yes, includes step by step manual … on paper.

The assembly mBot is extremely simple, since the end of the day is a device designed for children and young people from about 8 years: in the case are all basic and fundamental to, in a few minutes following the relevant instructions ( Included in paper) have a robot mounted and prepared to program.

This setup is more like the traditional Meccano that the LEGO using screws (if necessary screwdriver is included) and metal parts. Virtually all of the mBot is made of aluminum, which is appreciated and gives the feeling of being a “toy for adults” that obviates plastics or other materials of lesser durability.

Plaque is the essential component, of course. Based on Arduino, but with a few modifications to make it intuitive for the youngest.

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Once already mounted the robot – an adult take no more than twenty minutes to do so – the next steps will be marked by the many manuals available online: both ideas proposed by the community in the Makeblock Openlab as the ‘First steps’ indicating in SPC-Makeblock. Although there are innumerable tutorials and introduction guides, this is where the role of SPC-Makeblock comes in. It provides interesting guides to start creating and programming, in a very intuitive and trivial way to follow.

Our mbot is the Bluetooth version, which as well as being compatible with the MBLOCK desktop environment (Windows / Mac) can also be used with smartphone / tablet through the respective apps available for Android and iOS :

  • mbot / mBlockly: a kind of ‘Scratch’ adapted to tablets developed for Makeblock products. Allows programming with blocks in a very intuitive way, making use of all sensors, motors and other actuators of mBot.
  • MakeBlock: although it also can be programmed with it, it is a control panel in which the controls have to control the mBbot.

All this software, compatible systems and download links are listed in the software section of the website of Makeblock.

The synchronization with the device is trivial and direct, and it will hardly take us a few seconds. Once done it will not take more than a few minutes to have your first program on mBot. If you already know Scratch is a cinch ; If it is the first time you have programs in a language with blocks, you will have to familiarize yourself with the environment and the basis of programming in order to realize its full potential.

Schedule an mBot

Programming an mBot is very easy, and if you already know Scratch … more still.

Being a product thought for education is evident that for an adult will be a very simple task. Schedule a mBot is very easy, open to anyone even without prior knowledge. This is where, again, it can be very interesting to follow some of the guides or courses of SPC-Makeblock, which precisely propose an introduction in different tutorials and a first start-up to know the environment.

We said before that this is an educational toy, and that is when we get in the skin of young children and adolescents: the difficulty is not so much to manage environments for programming, but master the possibilities that the mBot have: know what you want to do and, above all, know how to resolve it through programming. It is part of computational thinking, problem solving, initiative and resourcefulness the most difficult to achieve, and that we discussed in this article.

A part of the mBlockly iOS app: colored pieces with different functions to program the mBot. Very versatile, it works by dragging each piece.

And is that the possibilities of a mBot are greater than other robots of the style, such as LEGO WeDo – which also have a higher price. We should also mention that it is not a product for everyone, as it can be considered too complex for smaller (at younger ages to 8 years there are better options, such as BeeBot, Cubetto or Codi-caterpillar FisherPrice).

The possibilities of mBot are superior to those of other educational robots, although it is not ‘fit’ for all audiences.

However, we must also consider the possibilities of mBot once dominate: in addition to the existence of other more advanced models (special mention for the Ultimate 2.0), there are many accessories as novel sensors, parts or other components to expand Creations. Of course, they must be specific to MakeBlock, since the connections are not standard despite being an Arduino based and open source robot.

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