Price (RRP): $179
Jimu Robot Truckbots make STEM fun. Experts and academics stress the importance of building literacy in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from an early age.
Earlier this year, GadgetGuy wrote on the release of UBTECH’s Jimu Robot line (article here) that aims to teach programming and coding literacy to children. Gadgeteer Jim Matthews steps into a child’s shoes to have some fun. His take: Don’t fear the robots.
UBTECH’s Jimu Robot Truckbots Kit, part of the Jimu System (website here) aims to create educational and entertaining experiences through the building, programming, and coding robotic toys. It is for children 8 and older.
Time to get Truckin’ with Jimu
Left: Gravelbot Right: Dozerbot
The Jimu Robot Truckbots kit sells for $179. That is not bad value containing 410-pieces and the option to build an excavating Dozerbot; a dump truck inspired Gravelbot; or your original creation. Although at first, we recommend you read the instructions and go with what you know will work.
We stuck to the path and built a Dozerbot, for fear of creating a monstrosity like Sid from Toy Story.
Unboxing and App Setup
The box contains a very neat layout of small, coloured boxes, a visual checklist of all the pieces, and instructions to install the iOS or Android smartphone app. We have chaotically built a lot of Lego and Meccano over the years, so this level of organisation is excellent – an OCD’s delight.
That means you need a smartphone to build and use Jimu Robots. This should not be a problem for parents intending to supervise their child’s educational experience. The teenage level should handle it with assurance. However, if you are considering this as a gift, it is something to keep in mind.
Open the app, and everything is ready. No attempts to sign us up, learn our birthdays, our blood types – none of it. Too many apps mandate we hand over our data to use services. UBTECH is clear that is does not attempt to profile or learn about its child users. Bravo.
You can register an account to save your progress, but you are free to proceed without an account.
The app quickly takes you through its five areas and then asks which robot you would like to build. No mess, no fuss and we were off and building. Excellent.
Build Experience – Factory
The Jimu ‘factory’ app guides you through building the robot. It shows the parts on a 3D plane. You can pinch, rotate and zoom as necessary, to get a clear view of what you’re working with.
Each new piece hovers on screen. Then a second animation shows placement. This interactive element makes it almost impossible to get placement wrong and makes building a breeze. The aim is to reduce tears if it does not work!
The app also warns you of pieces that require special attention (mainly for the servomotor units). These are UBTECH’s secret sauce enabling precise, rapid control of limbs and movements. You place these using icons of circles, stars, squares and triangles on the units as a guide. This is a thoughtful touch, as once you get on a roll, it is easy to overlook smaller details.
Most pieces are LEGO style plastic, and everything feels very solid once constructed. There should be no concerns about longevity or durability, even with a boisterous young recipient.
Our build took a leisurely 2.5-hours. The rate at which the individual pieces took shape was brisk enough that it never felt like a chore – it should keep the kids and adults amused.
The app does not include instructions when to add stickers. So, you are unlikely to realise this until too late. Due to the tight construction, I could not apply these properly unless I took apart what I had just built. The app needs to prompt ahead of time.
Programming Experience – control centre
Once the robot is complete, the app directs you to the ‘Control Center’. This showcases a series of pre-programmed movements your robot can perform — these range from the basic, such as backwards and forwards movement, to a range of expressive gestures and dances – reminiscent of the Anki Vector’s cute little physical expressions.
From here you can program your own routines, with full control of the robot’s two motors. After arranging your actions on a timeline, you simply hit record to capture your program and save it. This use of Pose, Record, Play motions is a terrific introduction to coding logic, without you even needing to think about it.
I was at first sceptical of how much free roam the programming would provide, but it’s surprisingly sophisticated. The full range of motions, speeds, and other relevant variables are yours to control – there are limitless combinations of what you can do. For those who might need a little more training before diving into programming, there is a ‘Training Base’ providing a series of interactive tutorials to help develop these skills.
Control Center also provides access to an on-screen remote control, allowing you to control and move your robot in real time should you wish to take a break from programming. The level of customisation and experimentation here is great, with enough freedom to experiment without becoming overwhelming.
Coding Experience – coding lab
Once you have become a master of basic programming, you can take things even further in the ‘Coding Lab’ by creating and executing new code for your robot. Using Google’s Blockly language, learners can easily create accurate syntax code with blocks they can drag and drop to create commands. It is an accessible way to code without the need for troubleshooting and knowledge of all the terms and variables.
The options here are vast. You can code your robot’s responses to all sorts of stimulus such as tilting the smartphone (think game controller), what to do when it encounters an obstacle, conditional math variables to trigger different outcomes, playing sound effects and tempos, turning on display lights and more. It is all very friendly and accessible, and a terrific way for slightly older children and teenagers to take things to the next level.
This is a terrific springboard into the fundamentals of code and encourages creative experimentation without the confusion. We had a great time with Blockly coding, and we believe a younger audience will too.
And, then what?
After you’ve built both robots and done basic programming and coding until your heart’s content, the Jimu app provides some additional experiences to keep you learning. There are also over 600 add-on pieces you can buy. More than enough to keep them creating new inventions for months.
The Innovation Center contains additional projects from UBTECH such as a piggy bank which reacts to the money you deposit and a mini Earth-Moon model. You can also store your creations here to refer to later.
A thriving online Community tab contains an array of videos containing weird and wonderful robots the community has made. It is fun to see the innovative ways other creators are using the platform and might inspire you to create your own.
Finally, the Adventures tab provides an animated narrative to work through, including building a character, programming it to life, and working through the story together. This is a neat way to continue the investment past the original Truckbots creations. However, some older audiences might find this a little too junior.
GadgetGuy’s take: Don’t fear the robots.
There’s no denying the value of STEM literacy right now, let alone in 10 years. Coding will become a core skill of many industries, so it makes sense to start early. If you have young people in your life, this is a terrific way to start them the science of robotics.
The kit is suitable for anyone between 8 to 16-years, and parental assistance may be advisable depending on the child’s innate ability.
The kit is well thought out, logical, and accessible, with a wealth of content to keep young minds engaged for many hours. And who knows? They might just go on to create the androids that will take all of our jobs before efficiently killing us off. Isn’t that fun?