UBTech boasts a colorful and creative array of educational STEM toys, with the JIMU line of buildable robots at the top. The JIMU AstroBot Kit is a 3-in-1 robot toy designed to teach kids about robotics, from base mechanics to high-level code.
In The Box
The full kit comes with five smooth-motion servo motors, an IR sensor, a speaker, two LED modules that can display eight bright colors, 371 connectors, wires, and snap-together pieces to construct each robot’s body, the main control box, a rechargeable battery, and a power adapter. Each of these comes in its own color-coded box for easy organization. There’s also an instruction booklet to walk you through all the interconnected parts and help you configure your JIMU bot.
The JIMU AstroBot is 3-in-1 so that you can make anyone of three pre-designed models: AstroBot, Astron, and Rover. AstroBot and Rover have wheels with treads, while Astron is a more humanoid shape that can dance and sing. The 3-in-1 kit gives you the freedom to play with whichever model you like best, and you have enough pieces to add custom modifications or design your own model from scratch. The individual pieces are sturdy and click into place.
The three pre-made designs are each unique – AstroBot is the most functional, with moving arms and treads allowing it to navigate around a room and grab things with its rubber hands. It’s also the most difficult to build, while Astron and Rover have one or two fewer steps and more straightforward connections. With three different models of varying complexity, the 3-in-1 design lets kids of all levels start wherever they feel most comfortable.
The five servo motors are extraordinarily sturdy, and their movements are smooth. The controller box has six ports on it for wired connections, and it controls each of the servos through those connections. The rechargeable battery pack charges quickly and holds its charge well. Unfortunately, one of the designs makes it difficult to charge without taking apart at least some of the robot, due to the charging port being slightly blocked by another piece. The infrared sensor is reliable from a distance, and all the code commands we used reacted to each obstacle effectively. The LEDs are also bright and colorful, although they’re a little limited since they can only display eight colors. The plastic fasteners are durable and create reliable connections, and the connectors slide together and click into place to maintain the structural integrity of your bot.
Compatibility and Software
The JIMU app is compatible with both iOS or Android and can run on smartphones and tablets. The app comes with a 3D step-by-step instruction guide to help you build your model of choice – and you can zoom in and rotate the model 360 degrees to make sure you’re putting everything together correctly. On top of that, the app comes with pre-made commands for each model so you can make your robot dance and move as soon as you’ve finished building it. You can also control your robot with the app using arrow commands, which is convenient for testing out basic movements for each of the models. With tilt-based code commands, you can also turn your phone into a tilt controller for the robot.
The Blockly code editor is drag-and-drop and allows you to play with different types of code commands. The code blocks familiarize you with the basics of code structure and concepts such as loops and variables. You can also view the text version of your code, which is written in Swift, so you can learn basic syntax as you compose your code projects.
The JIMU AstroBot’s goal is to teach kids about code – and it does more than that. By allowing kids to construct their robot themselves, it also teaches principles of spatial design and engineering. This gives kids a unique perspective on the importance of how you put together a machine and the different things you can do based on how you build your bot. It tackles both the construction and coding aspects of creating a robot, rather than only touching on one or the other.
The building process takes a lot of time and focus, however – and you need to follow the instructions precisely to ensure that your robot will work when you’re done with it. One small mistake can ultimately compromise the overall functionality of your bot, which means you may have to backtrack through earlier steps in the building process to fix your mistakes. This might make it a little bit slow-paced or frustrating for younger kids. Although the box suggests ages 8 and up, eight years old seems a bit young for this product — I would recommend it for kids at least twelve years old. The long building time also limits its usefulness in the classroom as an educational tool — unless teachers want to dedicate several class periods to the building process, and several more periods to the coding aspect.
The stability of the connectors and fasteners also varies – some are extremely difficult to remove, and others pop out of place during normal handling. Most pieces fit together nicely, but the ones that are too tight make it frustrating to deconstruct and start a new project, and the ones that are too loose can cause a lot of stress when they fall apart in the middle of building a new project. This is another reason the age range should be bumped up a bit — kids playing with this robot should have stellar patience to deal with potential mess-ups.
The Blockly code editor itself has proven itself to be a great intro to code, with tons of different kinds of commands to familiarize kids with code structure. Being able to view your code in text — in JIMU’s case, it’s viewable in Swift — is also a win. The Pose, Record, Play feature is also great, as it lets you move each of your robot’s servos and have the robot play those movements back to you, circumventing the coding process entirely. However, it’s a little tricky to get the robot’s wheels to move forward or back using this feature since you can only move so many servos at once. The JIMU AstroBot is easy and fun to code, and although building it is very time-consuming, it’s ultimately rewarding.
The JIMU AstroBot is a practical win for education – it uniquely offers kids with the opportunity to explore engineering and programming from both the construction and code points of view. It also allows kids to customize their robot and build unique bots of their own. As a toy, it demands a lot of focus that may be difficult for younger kids, and the building time is a little bit long relative to the reward of programming your completed robot. Retailing at $199.99, the JIMU AstroBot is worth the price, tackling both the physical and programmable aspects of building a robot. Just be aware that it requires a lot of attention and is a little bit finicky, so it may not be the right call for younger kids.