Robotics Gear Review and Recommendations

There are a ton of options available to educators looking to explore robotics. In many cases, it can be tricky to know where to start. Our robotics program is largely student-driven, meaning students have great input on what tools and techniques are used in the course. This has exposed us to a wide variety of hardware, software, and resources along with feedback from the students and the educators that we work with.

In our design, we have used the students’ and teachers’ voices to shape our program in an environment that has been strongly influenced by open source philosophies. This list outlines the resources that we have found to be most useful through hands-on use and feedback from everyone involved.

We have done our best to categorize the variety of resources, tools, and components that are available, but there are certainly more out there that we have yet to touch on. Many of the organizations listed do a great job of covering hardware, software, tools, and even educational efforts. These links should serve as a starting point to exploring robotics and related technology further.

If you have any thoughts, comments, or recommendations that we may have overlooked, do not hesitate to contact colin@foundry10.org.


Tech and Robotics Kits

These kits come with everything that you need to get started. They are more rigid in their function and curriculum relative to some DIY projects, but they are indeed a good way to get you or your students introduced and excited about concepts within robotics. Also, with some proficiency, any of these kits can be augmented or used in innovative ways. Modding is one of the most fun parts of working with robotics.

Our personal favorites:

Lego Mindstorms EV3 ($389.95)

Pros: Approachability and ease of use with familiar Lego pieces and a simple coding system can teach both programming and physical building. This could be your introduction to the FIRST Lego League.
Cons: Cost to student ratio. Beyond 2 or 3 students per kit, it may be difficult to implement one of these kits in elementary schools.

Elegoo UNO Super Starter Kit ($34.99)
Pros: At $34.99, you get an incredible number of sensors, connectors, and an Arduino UNO R3 clone. For perspective, an official UNO R3 costs $24.95 on its own.
Cons: You will be buying a “clone” of an Arduino UNO R3, which does not directly support the creators at arduino.cc.

Other Useful Alternatives:

Makeblock mBot ($94.99)
Although foundry10 has never implemented these, we have seen several schools incorporate these into classes and afterschool clubs with reported success.

OpenROV ($899.00)
This is an advanced kit that could be used with a small group of dedicated high school students. For the price, this is a great way to get involved in marine technology. If you want to further modify your platform and learn about marine tech, check out BlueRobotics and the MATE ROV Competition.


3D Printing and Computer-Aided Design (CAD)

One of the hot topics among students is 3D printing. Beyond printing little plastic knick-knacks, it is a great way to introduce students to design and CAD.

Ultimaker 2+ ($2499.00)

Based upon the recommendations of foundry10 interns we chose to work with the Ultimaker 2+. It was easy to setup and maintain with the occasional need to calibrate, as is the case with all extrusion-type 3D printers.

Autodesk Fusion 360 (Free for students, educators, and academic institutions)
Our high school interns have been utilizing the Fusion 360. All files are saved on the cloud which makes collaboration relatively easy.

Cura
Cura is the 3D slicing software recommended by Ultimaker, although it is compatible with other 3D printers.

Thingiverse and GrabCAD
Another great example of open source communities. CAD files are generally uploaded and licensed with Creative Commons so that others may use or alter those designs.


Soldering Irons and Electronics Kits

Inevitably, you will need to solder some wires together or mount some components to a PCB. These are the tools that we have used to introduce this handy topic. As soldering deals with a hot iron and usually lead-based solder, this is a nice opportunity to talk about safety and attention to detail.

Soldering is Easy (PDF comic)
At the start of class, we hand these comics out to ease students into the concept of soldering. Dealing with objects that can burn them can be intimidating. This shows them that the risks are minimal and everyone can do it.

MintyBoost Kit ($19.50)
This has been a favorite starter kit for many foundry10 students as they first learn to solder. Some have even opted for the solar option and prompted lively discussions about renewable energy and properly recycling batteries.

Whatnot Widgets Soldering Kit ($28.95)
The go-to kit for foundry10 when bringing soldering to new schools. The iron packs away nicely into a plastic case when they aren’t being used (just make sure you allow several minutes for cooldown). It includes everything that you need to get started soldering. We supplement these kits with wire strippers and angled wire cutters.

Ladyada’s Electronics Toolkit ($100.00)
If you believe that you will continue to tinker in your classroom or at home, this is a good next step. It includes a number of tools from wire cutters to a multimeter for taking measurements. See the link for a full list.


General Tools

What would a technologist be without their toolkit? Toolkits will vary depending on the project. These are some of the supplies that our partners and we have used.

Digital Caliper ($39.95)

Some projects require a level of precision that a straight edge ruler can’t give you. When working with CAD, calipers are a must-have.

Homeowner’s Toolkit ($40.64)
Students will want to take something apart. That is inevitable. This kit has just about everything you might need to get started.

Precision Screwdriver Set ($13.99)
For smaller electronic gadgets, these are indispensable. The included bits can help take apart some laptops, game consoles, and cell phones for refurbishment or repurposing.

For safety, we utilize protective gear (e.g. glasses, respirators, nitrile gloves, etc.) in conjunction with direct supervision and training the students to handle their tools with respect.


Coding

A key part of robotics is having the code to operate your project. Here are the environments that our students like to work with:

Arduino IDE

Along with the hardware, Arduino comes with its own Internal Development Environments (IDE). Arduino can be a bit intimidating for some beginners, but assure your students that there is a wealth of knowledge out there. Due to its open source nature, there are many places to find community support and tutorials.

Scratch
Easy to approach with wide-spread adoption in elementary, middle, and high schools around the world. Coding can be done all from a web browser with easy to follow step-by-step guides.

micro:bit
Block-based coding that is like Scratch. Hardware is available to purchase, but can be coded all in a web browser without the need to buy any hardware or download any software.


General Resources, Communities, and Tutorials

If you’re still not sure where to start, it’s nice to turn to a friendly community that can support you and your endeavors. These are the resources that have helped us run our robotics projects and we continually find inspiration from them.

Seattle Mini Maker Faire

Maker Faire exists all around the world, but was started by ideas formulated by the editors of Make: magazine. Local creators, educators, students, hobbyists, and scientists all come together to show off projects and learn from each other. Foundry10 has had the pleasure of sponsoring this event for the past two years and we will back again with a booth for the upcoming 2017 event. Come say hello!

TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools)
With the support of Microsoft Philanthropies, TEALS works to build and grow computer science programs in high schools. Foundry10 has been a supporter of TEALS by hosting a booth at their Puget Sound Computer Science Fair. Without this fair, we wouldn’t have met many of our talented interns.

NCCE (Northwest Council for Computer Education)
We believe that conferences can be very valuable for an educator’s professional development. We attended NCCE 2017 in Portland, OR and were inspired by the keynotes and workshops that we attended. Look out for NCCE 2018 in Seattle, WA.

Donors Choose
Teachers may request funding for classroom projects, especially if project ideas are cost-prohibitive for your school. The site is completely free for teachers to use, unlike platforms like Kickstarter.

Adafruit and SparkFun
Along with being the official manufacturer for Arduino in the USA, Adafruit provides excellent tutorials that are easy to follow.
Like Adafruit, SparkFun also provides professional development opportunities for educators via workshops.

Instructables
Struggling to come up with project ideas? Instructables provides documentation for an array of amazingly complex and approachable projects for beginners and experts.

Mouser Electronics
Small electronic resistors and capacitors have the tendency to disappear in a class with 30 students. Mouser is an excellent supplier of everything you might ever need for circuitry projects.

McMaster-Carr
As much as we believe in supporting your local hardware store, sometimes you just can’t find the right piece that you’re looking for there. When it comes to hardware, we would be amazed if McMaster-Carr didn’t have what you were looking for.


We hope this list helps you get started, but remember that this is just a list of URLs. Don’t forget about your local Maker Spaces and brick-and-mortar stores. We have created invaluable connections by reaching out to makers and educators within the city of Seattle. Explore your community to see what organizations are around that you may be able to collaborate with, maybe you can even work on a project together.

What do you use in your classroom? What have been your experiences with these tools? Are there any other products, tools, or communities that have been valuable to you and your students?
Again, please contact us at colin@foundry10.org if you have any questions or want to let us know what you’re using and how the students like it. We would love to hear from you!