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:
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
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
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
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.
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
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?
The Jimu Robot Truckbots Kit retails for $179 and is available at Officeworks, and BuyMac
Value for money
Ease of Use
Reader Rating0 Votes
Neatly organised and very easy to follow building process
Superb longevity and repeat usage from single Truckbots kit and app
Increases in difficulty between programming and coding cater to user ability levels
Not mandatory to create an account to use the Jimu app – at last real privacy!
Instruction to add stickers before assembly should be present in the app
Some very minor language quirks and meanings lost in translation