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Why we chose this remarkable orange Robot over LEGO Mindstorms

Dhack Institute Edison Robot

Dhack Institute Edison Robot

Disclaimer: This is NOT a sponsored post and Dhack Institute is not associated with Microbric in any way.

Choosing a STEM Robotics Kit

Before starting our STEM Robotics program, we had to figure out which kit to use. There were a lot of options to choose from including LEGO WeDo or MINDSTORMS, Sphero, Wonder Workshop Dash and Dot, Makeblock mBot, and Edison Robot. To make our choice, we had to put certain factors into consideration:

Size and Cost

We deliver our program to kids in various ways: in-house STEM clubs, holiday camps, and also as external STEM partners to our schools. This means that we teach a lot of kids in various schools and the robotics kit we choose must be able to support such class sizes without being too expensive.

Education support

STEM Education is more than the technology or kit you are using. It is about using technology to support learning. So even if a kit does great things, one of the important things to us was support for education through curriculum guides, lesson plans, etc.

Sufficient complexity

Since we run our programs throughout the academic year, we needed a robotics kit that provided enough features to support kids’ learning for an extended period of time.

Device compatibility

In our locality, laptops and desktops are the main computing devices – at least in school labs. Therefore, we needed a kit that could be programmed from those devices and not (only) from a smartphone or tablet.

From the research we did at the time, a lot of people were using and recommended LEGO’s range of robotics kits, which makes sense because LEGO has a huge focus on Education. However, our first factor of consideration (size and cost) ruled out the LEGO MINDSTORMS. Device compatibility ruled out a couple of other robotics kits like Sphero, and Dash and Dot. At the time of our research, we were not sure Ozobot had sufficient complexity for our class use. That seems to have changed now.

Note: We now have the LEGO MINDSTORMS and it’s pretty awesome with more than enough complexity.

During our research, we came across a small orange robot boasting a lot of features, and strong enough to be driven over by a car! So our decision was down to two options: The Edison Robot and the more famous Makeblock mBot. Even though mBot had a larger following, we decided to take a chance with the Edison Robot because it provided similar features at the fraction of the cost.

Our bet paid off!

Edison Robot

Like we already said, the Edison Robot is an orange colored robot about the size of two credit cards placed side by side (on their longer side). It is also surprisingly affordable, costing about $50 for a single robot and can go as low as $33 for a pack of 30. In the past, we have gone for the pack of 3 which costs $119.

Dhack Institute Robotics

Pros

Edison has a couple of things going for it. It has various sensors that allow it to detect (and avoid) obstacles, respond to varying intensities of light, follow lines (black lines on white surfaces), and react to sound. It also has LEDs, can play ‘music’ (composed of beeps), and has LEGO compatible studs (which kids find really cool).

In terms of programming, Edison can be programmed in a lot of ways:

  • Barcodes for quick programming. Contains barcodes for activities like obstacle detection, line tracking, and Sumo wrestling. Kids go crazy with the Sumo Wrestling.
  • EdBlocks which is an online block-based programming environment similar to Scratch.
  • EdWare which is also block-based but more complex. It is available online and as an application that can be installed on PCs.
  • EdPy which is an online Python-based programming platform.

The guys behind Edison have also done a great job regarding support for Education. There are various guides and workbooks on their website for free download. These resources are good enough to be used as-is. A lot of thought was put into them.

Not only is Edison useful for term-long classes, it is also great for short stints like an introductory course that lasts for about an hour. The kids can’t seem to get enough of Edison after one use.

The support from the Edison team is also great from our experience with them. Our reason for reaching out to them is discussed below.

Cons

The biggest issue we’ve had with the Edison robot is in terms of bad batches. We’ve had at least 2 robots just stop coming on and it was not battery related. They may need to work on their quality assurance processes. On the plus side, we reached out to the support team, and they shipped us replacements without hassles! Free. Twice.

Another issue we face in large classes has to do with the EdBlocks app. There are times when the “Program Edison” link on EdBlocks doesn’t respond. We suspect this may be related to our Internet speed or some form of filtering, but since the application behaves erratically (works sometimes and doesn’t work other times), we cannot be sure if it’s a bug from their end. In any case, a downloadable EdBlocks application will be great for us (because Internet access can still be a pain in our part of the world).

While Edison ships to almost everywhere in the world, sadly, Nigeria (and the whole of Africa) is the exception. We are not really sure why the Edison team does not ship to this continent but here’s a note to them: You should! Thankfully, we had other ways of getting our order down here.

While this is not a problem specific to Edison, you will need to factor in battery use for the robots. Edison does not come with a rechargeable battery – each Edison robot uses 4 AAA batteries although rechargeable AAA batteries can be used. We cannot estimate how long a good battery (e.g. Duracell) lasts, but when you have lots of robots, you rack up batteries very fast.

The last issue Edison faces is that of perception. When many kids think of robots, they think of humanoids and so when they see Edison, they don’t classify it as a robot. Their minds change quickly after one use though.

Conclusion

There is a common phrase that goes “Small but mighty”. This is a good description of the Edison Robot. It packs a lot of (useful) features in a small box and is very great for classroom use, even over extended periods of time. Since the Edison robot focuses on programming versus building, it can be used as a precursor to more advanced robotics kits like the LEGO MINDSTORMS which is big on both building and programming.

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