Cheaper alternatives to LEGO Mindstorms

AERobotI’m a big fan of teaching kids robotics and have done that for years with LEGO Mindstorms, but there’s no denying that it is a fearsomely expensive bit of kit. It’s also, with the introduction of EV3, become a bit too polished for my taste – far too close to a remote-controlled car.

So it’s great to see alternatives popping up. The latest I’ve seen is the AERobot from the Wyss Institute at Harvard which costs just over $10. That’s a seriously  good price in a school context, or any other context really. Here’s what the creators say about it:

The Affordable Education Robot, better known as AERobot, was specifically designed as a low-cost robot to make it accessible to students and schools that otherwise could not afford to gain hands-on experience in robotics. Complete robot systems currently on the market range in cost from tens to hundreds of dollars each, but the AERobot incorporates advanced capabilities at a cost of just over $10, including assembly.

Now the AERobot is a tool for teaching robotics but it’s not really an alternative to Mindstorms, it’s much too limited for that; but for younger kids at that price it might be just the thing. For older kids the Arduino Robot looks fabulous; but I have to admit that at over $300 it’s far more expensive than I would like.

Something like the DF Robot Arduino compatible kit looks even more interesting, because it’s in a more conventional and exciting format with tracks and an obvious front and comes in at around $130. The Zumo Robot is also Arduino based and is around $100. A bit of searching around Ebay will take you to kits like this, which at $90 is looking very interesting.

Raspberry Pi is not missing out on the robotic action either. There is, for example, the GoPiGo Robot for under $100.

Robotgear.com.au has a nice range of further alternatives on their website, all for reasonable sums. And just Goggling shows there are constantly more options being added.

So there are alternatives to Mindstorms.  Realistically, though, they all lack the cache of LEGO, and its recognisable  parts and branding. But if you’re a bit braver or have more experienced students, it’s really worth thinking about exactly what you want to achieve and what’s the most cost effective and interesting way of doing that. You might just find that the $10 AERobot is actually your answer.

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