mBot Ranger At-a-Glance
Cost: ~$120 (here's an Amazon link to check current prices)
Age Range: 10+ (but we made it at 8 just fine)
Software: MacOS, Windows, Chrome, or Linux
Our overall impression: We LOVE the mBot Ranger!
There are a ton of various DIY build your own robot products out there. Some of these end up as just plain robot toys at the end of the day. The mBot Ranger stands apart for me because of the way this robot can grow with your child. I'll go into more depth on our mBot Ranger experience below, but here is a brief outline for readers who want to get all the details quickly.
Pros: What we love about the mBot Ranger
Building the robot
Multiple programming schemes
Robot functionality and capabilities (it's not just a robot toy)
Flexible robot structure (3 are given, but it is widely changeable)
Cons: What we don't love about the mBot Ranger
Battery life (but there is a fix for that)
Overall, if you have a kid that is interested in learning robot building basics and wants something fun to play with at the end, the mBot Ranger is for you.
Want to learn more about the mBot Ranger?
We gave you a skeletal outline of the mBot Ranger, but if you like a bit more detail, here it is.
We loved building the mBot Ranger
There are a lot of skills that kids will need if they want a future in robotics or even many of the sciences. In general, we stress programming a TON. Everything now is geared towards teaching kids programming skills. I think it is important to learn logical, and creative thinking, but I also think it is important to learn how to use tools.
Using a screwdriver and wrench at the same time is an acquired skill. Learning which direction tightens or loosens a screw is useful in building, not to mention when using the right-hand rule in physics. Being able to follow diagrammatic instructions? Yep, that’s a skill. Seeing a build on paper and translating that into real life? THat takes spatial reasoning skill.
Mechano was hugely popular when I was a kid. Sadly it has lost its influence a bit as the market has been crowded out by all of the app based programming robotic toys out there. I love that the mBot Ranger allows you to build the robot, acquire these skills, and ultimately open the door to building a robot that looks different down the line. Bonus – the mBot Ranger can be linked to Lego bricks through a dot grid on the back, which means you can use the mBot pieces, Lego pieces, and Mechanno pieces in your build!
I love the programming options in the mBot Ranger
The mBot ranger is an arduino-esque run robot with an app interface that allows different types of programming. For the younger crowd, you can use the robot in drive mode. This mode turns your mBot Ranger into a glorified RC car. The next step up is drawing based programming. In this option, kids can draw the path they want the mBot Ranger to follow, and then watch it execute the moves. This very basic programming can be used by young kids to begin to make connections between what you draw (aka tell the computer) and what the robot does. Older kids can use this to try and navigate obstacle courses to discover how frustrating such basic programming can be to meet a need.
Next comes blocky programming. MakeBlock has a great app that builds kids Blocky abilities through games, levels, and unlocking new blocks of code. Kids can use Blocky programming to effectively navigate obstacles, plan trips, execute long commands, and more. My kids love the ability to ‘play’ the process of learning Blocky, and I’m just happy that they are engaged.
Lastly, online you can switch between Blocky coding and Python, a high-level programming language. You can do a bit more in Python mode, but for me it is more about the transition between the different levels of programming that I truly love about the mBot Ranger.
I love the functionality of the mBot Ranger
I find there are often two camps when it comes to kids robotics. In one camp are out of the box robots that kids can control, but not build. These robots are usually stock full of cool abilities, lights, sensors, etc. They are fun to use but are a black box when it comes to learning actual robotics. In the other camp are robots that kids can build, but are often lacking in functionality. Maybe they can follow a line, maybe they can be controlled.
The mBot Ranger is great because it combines the two. Building and programming. Functionality and hands-on learning. I do wish that there was a bit more building on the wiring and circuitry side, but maybe that is down their product line a bit further.
I love the flexible structure of the mBot Ranger
We haven’t actually played with this feature yet, because that would mean putting down the mBot Ranger in its current totally cool form that can whallop its way over a pile of Lego bricks. However, I love that it is an option. I am all about open-ended play, so that ability to change the structure is great. Three options are available out of the box, but kids can use their imagination to make others.
I don’t love the mBot Ranger’s battery life
The mBot ranger comes with a DC pluggable 6xAA battery pack. The problem is, the mBot Ranger is power hungry. The 6 AA batteries will last you a couple of hours, max. This can be problematic if you actually want to spend an afternoon with the mBot Ranger or use the mBot Ranger in the classroom. BUT WAIT! There’s a fix for that. I scoured online forums about the mBot Ranger battery life and found a teacher who used a rechargeable camcorder battery. You will also need a camcorder to DC jack adapter to make the setup work. It adds a bit to the price of the mBot Ranger, but it fixes the problem of going through batteries as fast as your kids can stuff their faces with cookies.