After researching over 100 different products, we bought and tested the 10 best robot kits for kids currently on the market in 2020. We carefully evaluated and compared these educational toys head-to-head, looking at the curriculum each one covers, their mechanical, electrical, and coding components, versatility, durability, and, of course, how fun and engaging each product is. Our expert recommendations are based on close to a decade of STEM education experience and we are here to help you find the perfect robotics or computer programming kit to meet your needs and budget.
The Best Robot Kits of 2020
We strongly recommend the Makeblock mBot as an introductory robotics kit. This kit gives you direct exposure to components that are commonplace even in industrial robots but in a user-friendly and approachable way for even the complete novice. The step-by-step 3D instructions are easy to follow, with the app providing gamified lessons once you have the mBot built. It also comes pre-programmed with three different operating modes so you can hit the ground running the moment you finish building it.
However, the mBot is a little less user-friendly and requires more dexterity to assemble than LEGOs or other snap-together plastic parts, as it uses standard metric machine screws. Parents are probably going to have to help out with some of the more intricate parts of the assembly — we found ourselves wishing some needle-nose pliers were included with this robot. It also will be a bit more difficult to customize your mBot without purchasing additional components, though you can cover quite a lot of curriculum with just its stock configuration. All in all, the mBot is a great choice if your kids are already doing LEGO robotics at school and want a change of pace or if you want a kit that will provide a much broader base of understanding in mechatronics, provided you don't mind a slightly steeper learning curve and purchasing some add-on components.
If you are looking to get your kids started with robotics, then we would recommend the LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox — particularly for beginners. This kit starts slow, guiding you through simple projects that increase in complexity until you have made some truly impressive creations. The block-based graphical coding interface is intuitive and easy to use and the Boost Creative Toolbox comes with clear and detailed directions for assembling each of the 5 main models. It's a very approachable kit even for complete beginners, inspiring confidence in young roboticists as they advance and unlock more levels. This kit does a great job of blending both structured play and leaving plenty of spots for creative expression. The Boost platform doesn't require nor assume any previous electronics knowledge and makes troubleshooting easy, all while offering plenty of chances to expand with additional LEGO sets and products once you have exhausted the 60+ activities in this set alone. Those activities range from building a robot sheriff with a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher to an automated factory that makes miniature LEGO creations.
The design and structured activities of the Boost Creative Toolbox are fantastic for beginners but they are clearly geared towards kids a bit on the younger side, with the cutesy design of the Boost projects losing some of their appeal to older middle schoolers. You also might find your students outgrowing the Boost's hardware over time, as there are fewer options for expanding the capabilities of this product with additional actuators and motors than non-LEGO based kits. Don't get us wrong, the Boost Creative Toolbox is one of our all-time favorite robot kit for kids, offering plenty of fun while being a great introduction to mechanical and software design for both kids and parents without being overly complex or frustrating.
If some of the more advanced robot kits for kids seem a little intimidating or if you want to introduce programming at the elementary school level, the Sphero Mini is one of our favorite options out there. It doesn't take a lot of technical knowledge to get started and offers a nice progression in terms of skills. You can start by controlling it remotely and then build up to writing programs to direct its actions and incorporate sensor input, such as having it stop when it hits a wall or say, "Ouch," when it rolls off a drop. It packs a surprising amount of sensors into a very portable package and gives you a ton of programming power at a fairly low price.
The Sphero Mini is going to require some creativity on your part to keep your kid interested and engaged. It doesn't come with a whole lot in the package, only some miniature bowling pins and traffic cones, and doesn't have a clear progression of skills laid out. This gives you ample opportunity to challenge your kids to think creatively, such as creating both a maze out of cardboard and writing a program that lets the Sphero Mini solve it or use the canvas feature to literally paint a picture with your robot. There are plenty of activities like these available online — from both Sphero and other sources — but be aware that you are going to have to facilitate challenges like these to keep interest levels high. The Sphero Mini can also take some fairly rough and tumble play but it probably won't survive a huge drop or getting stepped on — a very reasonable concern given its size. However, this is a fantastic robot kit for kids for getting kids excited about computer science and coding for anyone who is shopping on a budget or constrained by space.
If you are hoping to introduce the concept of hands-on robotics to your kids in an affordable and approachable way, then the 4M Tin Can Robot is about as good a place to start as any. This basic project relies on a repurposed drink can as the bulk of the body for this little bot, which can be a good base to introduce concepts related to recycling in addition to some basic mechanical and electrical lessons. It's easily put together in less than an hour or two and offers some opportunities for creative expression by decorating the can.
However, there isn't much to do with this robot once it's done. It doesn't give you any way to control its motion so you are limited to it moving forward in a straight line and the only other interactive aspect is changing how the eyes and arms are posed. Any other activities are going to have to come from your imagination. This robot kit is a great low-cost option that can help foster an interest in robotics and lets you test the water before investing in a more expensive product but we would guess its appeal will wear off fairly shortly.
If you struggle to peel your child away from their Nintendo Switch, then the Nintendo Labo - Variety Kit might be the perfect option. Nintendo provided a surprisingly fun and interactive learning environment that charts out a natural progression of activities in increasing complexity, going so far as to even have built-in assessments to determine if you have been paying attention. There are clear and easy to follow directions for 5 different projects, as well as ideas on how you can expand and customize them to continue learning and playing once you have built them. Nintendo does a great job of walking you through how everything works using interactive dialogue with your virtual Labo development team. On top of all that, it also has a graphical drag-and-drop programming interface to introduce programming and algorithmic thinking.
While we were overall impressed with the Nintendo Labo, that doesn't mean that it's without flaws. Its innovative cardboard-based construction method is cool but it also means that it lacks the durability of plastic or metal robots. One spilled glass of water or juice could effectively wreck most of the parts and the tab and slot construction will wear out over time if you are routinely assembling and disassembling your cardboard creations. You also are fairly limited in terms of further expansions since you have no way of integrating any third-party motors or sensors and Nintendo doesn't currently make any hardware expansions. Despite that, the Nintendo Labo is a solid option to work on getting kids currently enthralled in video games interested in hands-on projects, engineering design, and programming, all at a relatively low price if you already have a Switch system.
If you are searching for a robot kit for kids that goes well beyond programming Legos, the Makeblock mBot Ultimate 2.0 is the kit for you. This 550+ piece kit has directions for 10 different robots, such as a robot tank with a gripper arm, a walking ant, a catapult, and even a camera dolly. It comes with a variety of different sensors and can be programmed with both graphical blocks or text-based coding in Python, as well as being compatible with both Arduino and Raspberry Pi. This kit is versatile enough that you could work for hundreds of hours on projects without duplicating anything. You also have plenty of potential to expand beyond what's included in the kit, both with add-on components from Makeblock or other commercial off the shelf parts.
However, this kit can be very complex and quite intimidating for a beginner. There are tons of small parts and it requires plenty of dexterity to assemble. The documentation isn't amazing and troubleshooting can be much more difficult compared to other models. It takes considerable amounts of time and space to assemble projects with this, so it isn't exactly a kit that you are going to pull out for a rainy afternoon and then put away an hour or two later. It's an absolutely fantastic option for more advanced kids that already have some foundational level understanding of electromechanical systems or if you are willing to invest lots of time assisting and guiding but beginners might be better served by other options. This kit can get you familiar with some of the same components used in college-level robotics classes and can give you a good starting point for years to come, even as you progress from working with kits to simply building your own robots.
While we generally would recommend the LEGO Boost for young robot engineers just starting, the more advanced LEGO Mindstorms EV3 also has its merits, especially if your kids are currently participating or aspiring to participate in the FIRST Robotics LEGO League (FLL). FLL teams are common at schools around the country and the Mindstorms EV3 set uses the same fundamental components and programming environment as the LEGO sets used in competition, giving you a head start. Even if competing in FLL isn't the current plan, the Mindstorms EV3 set is a fantastic option for older kids that might start to get tired of the activities laid out in the Boost's app or for anyone who wants a robot kit that your aspiring roboticist won't outgrow in a hurry.
Unfortunately, the Mindstorms EV3 does have a few flaws. It is one of the most expensive kits we have tested and while it is a versatile kit with plenty of potential for tons of interactive lessons and play, you are limited to LEGO products. Don't get us wrong, we are huge fans of the Mindstorms EV3 system and programming environment, with hundreds of thousands of children getting their first taste of engineering design, robotics, and programming with this system through FLL each year, but it can be a bit pricey for an individual to purchase knowing that you are locked into LEGO products for further expansions, which aren't cheap.
The UBTECH Jimu Buzzbot and Muttbot kit is another robotics kit that uses proprietary plastic bricks as its main construction method. While the pin and hole components might resemble some of the other kits, the tab and slots that attach to the servos are unique to Jimu. It's a fairly easy to put together kit as long as you are careful to match up the servo orientation and their ID code to what's shown in the 3D models in the app. Once you have either the Buzzbot or the Muttbot assembled, you can use the graphical programming interface in the Jimu app to create your own routines. You also don't have to worry about being limited to these two creations since there is a library of community-created designs available through the app or you can always create your own.
Unfortunately, the building method seems less friendly to little hands that might not have the most dexterity. You only have enough servos to build both the Buzzbot and the Muttbot at the same time and we feel the lack of included sensors really dampens the programming activities you can do. The JST connectors used to connect the various servos to the main hub also seem to be a little delicate and we could very much see them becoming damaged if pulled out carelessly. All in all, this pair of robots are adorable and have impressive amounts of motion due to all the servos but we feel there are better made bots with a much more comprehensive learning environment in a comparable price range.
The Elegoo Smart Robot Car V3.0 is a solid 4-wheel drive robot car that has most of the basic sensors you would want, has plenty of potential for further expansions, and can drive over rougher terrain than other models — it can easily drive over most carpet floors. It's programmable both with Elegoo's mobile app or the Arduino development environment, as well as being compatible with a wide variety of components from third-party suppliers. The Smart Robot Car V3.0 comes programmed right out of the box for obstacle avoidance, line-following, or remote control — either from the IR remote control or the mobile app.
Unfortunately, we found that the documentation isn't the best and the printed assembly instructions can be a little harder to follow. It also takes a bit more dexterity to put the Smart Robot Car together, though this can be made quite a bit easier if you use some additional tools beyond what's included in the kit, like needle-nose pliers and tweezers. The programming interface through the app is decently intuitive, but there aren't a set series of tutorials or skill progressions so you'll have to figure it out on your own or look for other resources. It would be a good option for those that have previous experience with Arduino and need a robotic base platform for further experimentation or their own projects, but beginners might be better served by other 'bots.
The Sillbird STEM 12-in-1 is a very inexpensive but limited robotics kit that is powered by the sun. Its electrical system consists of a single solar panel and a motor that can be configured up — you guessed it — 12 different ways. These include rolling, walking, and even swimming creations, making this product a great option for young scientists and engineers that are just starting, particularly if they have an interest in renewable energy and green technology.
While the Sillbird STEM 12-in-1 is a great option to pique a child's interest, you might find that it has a hard time maintaining it. You can't control this robot at all, no matter which of the 12 forms you build, and it is limited to merely driving forward in a straight line if there is sufficient solar energy. The assembly process — particularly of the gearbox — can also be very hard, especially for kids of the age that this will most appeal too. An adult may spend potentially more time cutting all of the pieces out of their frames and cleaning them up than a kid will actually play with this product. It isn't the most intuitive to use these parts for your own creations and its inability to run without sufficient sunlight can really put a damper on creative play. It can be a low-cost starting point but you shouldn't be too surprised if it fails to inspire continued play and learning.
Why You Should Trust Us
David Wise heads up our expert team when it comes to reviewing and testing educational robotics kits. Graduating with a B. S. in Mechanical and Ocean Engineering in 2014 from MIT, David has well over a decade of robotics and hands-on STEM education experience. He worked closely with the MIT Edgerton Center while enrolled as a mentor for their engineering design workshop. There he developed curriculum through their engineering outreach program and brought it to local schools in the Boston area. More recently he became one of the co-founders and directors of the Tahoe STEM Camp, teaching hundreds of students topics ranging from light following spider robots to remotely operated underwater vehicles. He is also a coach for the local FIRST Robotics Lego League and the FIRST Tech Challenge team.
We spent dozens and dozens of hours assembling and disassembling each of these robot kits, as well as consulting with both experts and novices to get a feel for how intuitive and easy to use each product is. We also compared the different software development environments side-by-side, looking for a programming experience that was simple, reliable, and offered a clear progression of lessons and activities. Of course, we also consulted with some budding scientists and engineers to see how fun each kit actually was and how long they captured a kid's interest — and how well they stood up to those kids dropping, playing, and generally abusing each of these bots.
Analysis and Test Results
While it's very difficult to directly compare some of these kits side-by-side since they cover such different topics and different students will learn different ways, we break down the salient points, pros, and cons of each model, how they compare, and what they are best at in the following sections.
Ease of Use
The first thing we considered with each kit was the amount of work it took to put together and set up the programming environment. Challenging students is one thing but frustrating them to a breaking point is an entirely different one, effectively ending any learning immediately. We awarded the most points to products that had clear and easy to follow instructions, as well as prompting you what to do with the robot once you finished. We also took the amount of dexterity required to assemble each robot — and the corresponding likelihood of parental assistance — into account as well.
As you don't have to assemble anything, the Sphero Mini is one of the easiest overall robots to use. It's small and compact, with the initial setup limited to downloading the app and charging it if necessary. You can easily ready to go to write your first program in less than 15 minutes, with the limited number of pieces making clean up a breeze. It's one of the few products that doesn't require significant chunks of time all at once, letting you squeeze in quick coding lessons throughout the day.
It's hard to beat LEGO products — the Boost Creative Toolbox and the Mindstorms EV3-- when it comes to ease of assembly, helped by their somewhat ubiquitous institutional knowledge present in most kids. The pieces snap or slide together easily even for little hands and the most difficult part of the process is usually making sure that you have the correct length cross axles — helped by the different colors and the 1:1 scale image usually present in the instructions.
The Boost app is quick to install on most mobile devices and lets you get up and running right away, giving you a clear starting point and unlocking more levels and activities as you progress. However, we did find this app can be a little slow on certain devices, particularly cheaper tablets.
The Mindstorms EV3 can be controlled and programmed through either the EV3 Programmer App or the companion software for Mac and PC. It also came with a printed set of directions for your first robot. The programming interface for both LEGO robots is fairly intuitive, with graphical blocks that you drag and drop into position.
The Nintendo Labo is fairly easy to put together but creasing some of the smaller tabs can be a little difficult so younger children might require some assistance. In terms of the companion video game, Nintendo's decades of experience with game design and in-game tutorials are readily apparent. It coaches you through the assembly process with detailed animations, as well as explaining how each component works to your budding engineer with conversations and quizzes with the in-game characters: Dr. Gerry Riggs, Plaise Allatyme, and Lerna Lotte. This trio coaches you through various activities with each Toy-Con and gives you ideas on how to further expand and customize your creations.
The Makeblock Ultimate, the Makeblock mBot, and the Elegoo Smart Robot Car are all a little more work to put together, especially the Ultimate. All of these products use standard nuts and bolts to hold them together so it's inherently more difficult — and can be quite frustrating for kids — to correctly thread them together and use both a wrench and screwdriver to tighten them compared to snap-together pieces. We found it to be very easy to mistakenly swap parts of the frame and the minuscule screws used to affix shaft collars and gears into position are astonishingly small and easy to lose. We would expect all three of these kits to require some significant parental/guardian assistance for the vast majority of kids.
Content Topics Covered
Next, we compared the different curriculum topics for which each robot kit can serve as a starting point. Engineering Design has been included with the Next Gen Science Standards for every grade level from kindergarten to 12th grade. These standards, unfortunately, are often overlooked, so we placed the most value on kits that allow your kids to engage in creative problem solving and the iterative design process in addition to covering the fundamentals of programming, electronics, and mechanical components.
The LEGO Boost, the LEGO Mindstorms EV3, the Makeblock Ultimate, and the mBot all stand out for covering a wide range of topics. You have plenty of general mechanical design topics to look at, like motors, gears, and forces, as well as electronics through ultrasonic, light, and touch sensors. All four of these kits have immersive programming environments that are easy to use and have guided tutorials and challenges, allowing you to come up with different solutions to a problem and optimize your answer — a fundamental tenet of the engineering design process. Both the Boost Creative Toolbox and the Mindstorms EV3 even come with playmats and corresponding challenges.
The Elegoo Smart Robot Car covers the same content topics as the four previously mentioned kits but doesn't offer guided progression or engineering challenges, so you'll have to come up with those on your own. The UBTECH Jimu Buzzbot hits many of those same content areas but we find the lack of sensors to be a major flaw compared to the other robots, precluding any discussions about the types of sensor and doesn't allow kids to create basic programs that makes their robot respond to outside stimuli. However, it does provide guided tutorials and lessons to work through and the opportunity for both graphical and text-based programming.
The Sphero Mini doesn't offer too much besides software development but does pack an impressive amount of sensors into a tiny package, giving you plenty of challenges and lessons to work with if you are creative enough. There are also a handful of projects and challenges both from Sphero and the community available in the app, they just aren't as structured as some of the other robots.
The Nintendo Labo also lets you create your own programs on the Switch and introduces you to some sensors but you are limited to the IR motion camera, accelerometers, and gyroscopes already present in the Joy-Cons. It has a good set of guided lessons and activities but we found it is a little difficult to actually create solutions and radically alter the various Toy-Cons compared to systems like LEGO or Makeblock. It's easy to customize your creations but creating something entirely new within the Nintendo Labo system isn't the easiest.
In terms of content areas, both the Sillbird 12-in-1 and the 4M Tin Can Robot are both fairly limited. You don't have a chance to change the design and fundamental operation of these robots since you can't control or program them but they could lead to the start of some conversations about green energy, renewable vs. nonrenewable resources, and recycling with the 4M Tin Can's repurposed body and the Sillbird 12-in-1's solar panel.
In our mind, an important aspect of these products is that they foster continued learning and creative play well after you finish putting it together. We liked the kits that offered both tons of activities to do as well as suggestions for ways to use each robot beyond the included directions, as well as being compatible with further expansions or add-ons so you can keep growing your skills once you have maxed out the included components.
In terms of further expansion, the Makeblock Ultimate and the mBot offer some of the most potential. These both let you start by controlling each robot, then move on to graphical programming, and finally finish with text-based Arduino coding. There are tons of additional components available from Makeblock to add more sensors, motors, or even additional configurations of each of these robots. These products are also compatible with other Arduino systems so you aren't limited to products made by Makeblock. These are some of the very same components used by engineers when prototyping their designs, so these kits could easily serve as a starting point for many years of robotics education.
The Elegoo Smart Robot Car is a very similar robot kit for kids, as it's a solid foundation for getting started with Arduino coding. It's compatible with a wide array of third-party components that are fairly inexpensive.
However, we would guess that you might tire of the Elegoo app and end up doing any code development directly in the Arduino Integrated Development Environment (IDE). The Arduino IDE can have a steeper learning curve than graphical programming but can foster skills that would serve a young robotics engineer throughout their entire career.
Both the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 and the LEGO Boost also have some potential for further expansion but they are limited to LEGO-compatible products. They provide directions for combining these products with a handful of other kits and you are always free to improvise and create with your own LEGO sets.
We've generally found that it's easier to come up with your own designs and successfully execute them with LEGOs compared to the Makeblock Ultimate or the Jimu Buzzbot. The UBTECH Jimu Buzzbot robot kit for kids can also be combined with other products from UBTECH but the options are considerably more limited than LEGO's offerings and aren't compatible with generic parts.
The same goes for the Nintendo Labo as there are a few other Toy-Con kits available but there aren't any third-party offerings either.
The final thing we compared and scored between robotics kits is how durable each one is. Many of these kits can be quite expensive so you are going to want to have some confidence that your investment will last some time. We based points on the different materials used by each kit, the availability of replacement parts, susceptibility to water damage, and the likelihood of damage if they were dropped or stepped on.
Both the LEGO Boost and the LEGO Mindstorms are quite durable, with their injection-molded bricks taking considerable amounts of force to break. The cables connecting the motors and sensors to the main power bricks seem quite sturdy and it's only some of the elastic bands that we would be worried about breaking or wearing out over time. Your creation might fall apart if dropped but won't be damaged irreparably and most people are painfully aware of what happens if you step on a LEGO brick — Spoiler Alert: the LEGO wins.
Both the Makeblock Ultimate and the mBot have rigid metal frames that can take a beating and are unlikely to be damaged by dropping or stepping on them. However, there are plenty of tiny fasteners that are very easy to lose or wear out. Luckily, these are common fasteners and many can be picked up at your local hardware store or online for mere pennies. The Elegoo Smart Robot Car is similar but substitutes a metal frame for a heavy-duty plastic one that seems almost as burly.
The UBTECH Jimu Buzzbot and Muttbot kit is almost as sturdy as the LEGO robots in our mind but we could see the servos and some of the other parts being damaged if dropped from a significant height or if they are torqued past their range of motion. The cabling also seems fairly delicate to the point where we wouldn't be surprised if it wore out after repeated use.
The Sphero Mini and the Nintendo Labo do give us some cause for concern in this department. We could very much see the Sphero Mini getting stepped on due to its minuscule size and somewhat erratic driving nature, leading to its untimely doom.
The primarily cardboard construction of the Labo also seems at quite a disadvantage to the plastic and metal robots. True, it has some surprisingly rigid and sturdy constructions given its choice of materials but we find it hard to believe that it would stand the tests of time as well as other robot kits. On top of that, while none of these robots are waterproof, the Nintendo Labo is definitely the most prone to liquid damage. You can also damage the parts by folding them incorrectly or in the wrong areas so you need to pay close attention to the onscreen instructions when making your Toy-Cons.
The Sillbird 12-in-1 is the only kit that actually sustained any damage during our testing. The plastic boat hulls cracked when we were folding it and one of the plastic pegs chipped when we were removing flashing with a flush cutter.
We sincerely hope that you have found this review helpful and informative when it comes to finding a new robot kit for your kids or students. These products can be great tools to introduce complex and technical topics in a fun way through hands-on experimentation and creative play. Robotics kits are a great way to enrich education for any grade level and a fun way to foster interest in STEM topics, particularly if they aren't getting exposure to these topics in school.
— David Wise