Here at BreakoutBros we think robots are pretty cool. From industrial packaging equipment to self driving cars robots are changing the world around us. But even designers of the most advanced robots had to start somewhere. Luckily there have been some advances in technology and teaching methods that allow anyone to start playing with robots. We want as many people as possible to experience the joy (and sometimes frustration) of building and programming robots. However getting started in robotics can still be a pretty intimidating task for a beginner. Even if you have some experience with an Arduino there is a big jump from using your Arduino for controlling the lights to having an autonomous rover patrolling your floors. It starts with deciding on propulsion, batteries, sensors, chassis and controls platform. So you decide that regular motors and wheels would be better than encoders and treads, but now you need to decide on a way to drive the motors. Do you go with H bridge IC’s or a motor shield (and that’s assuming you chose Arduino as your controller.) These are the kinds of decisions that take beginners forever to figure out and, unless they have a very specific project in mind, that time could be better spent learning with a robot. This is why we recommend a kit for anyone wanting to start in robotics. That way a beginner can still get the accomplishment of putting it together and the knowledge of what each part does without having to spend hours toiling over a design and worrying about compatibility. This allows you to learn the basics in a controlled environment with hardware that just works. That experience can then be translated to other projects and the original kit can be modified, scavenged for parts, or shelved for future projects.
So over the next few weeks we will be taking a look at different robot kits that we think are great for beginners starting with the Elegoo Uno Project Smart Robot Car Kit. We have looked at other Elegoo Kits before like their Uno R3 Complete Starter Kit and their 37 Sensor Kit and this kit falls right in line with what we have come to expect from Elegoo: professional high quality packaging, Arduino clones as nice as the real thing, clear and complete tutorials in not quite perfect English, and a fantastic value.
I think the thing I was most impressed with in this kit was the quality. The packaging was top notch. The compartmentalized box was sturdy and looks great with the full color packing list. Look how they managed to fit everything so neatly in that box. All of the hardware was individually labeled and bagged based on when you needed it in their build tutorial. Most starter robots only use 2 wheels or treads with 2 motors but I liked that Elegoo went with a 4 motor setup. It is not any harder to program and gives more consistent results on carpet and other odd terrain. The rechargeable batteries and external charger are money savers for sure, sometimes it seems like tiny robots eat AA’s. The acrylic plates are thick and the metal hardware means it will stay together over time. The only thing I can fault it for is the wheels are held on by friction, but that has never been an issue in all my test runs as the wheels do not seem to have loosened.
This kit is complete, all mechanical hardware is there including the Flathead, Phillips, and hex screwdrivers you need for assembly. The electrical hardware is all included as well with an Arduino Uno Clone, the 4 motor driver board, individual PCB’s for each of the 3 line following IR sensors, the HC-SR04 Sonar Sensor, the servo to turn it, a PCB for the IR receiver, the IR remote, the battery pack, the HC-06 Bluetooth Module, and the custom Elegoo Robot Arduino shield. The shield and PCB’s allowed Elegoo to include all wires with JST connectors so there is no soldering required. This is professional quality and at the same time perfect for beginners. The only weak point was the power connection from the battery to the Arduino and the Motor shield. I have to hand it to Elegoo as this was clever but the battery terminal and the motor shield have plain wires that have to be held in with screw terminals connected to the barrel plug. I don’t like making joints in screw terminals and may solder these wires eventually, but that is probably overkill for most people.
There are four basic modes of operation: IR remote control, Bluetooth control from a smartphone, obstacle avoidance, and line follow with countless variations by changing the code for these modes. By default the Infared and Bluetooth control modes simply have the car follow the most recent signal forever, which can cause issues if you are not in IR range or if you have a hangup on your Bluetooth device. If you want to put the robot into RC Car mode with one of these control systems I would modify the code to only execute each command for a set amount of time. Thsi would make it easy for even the youngest robotics enthusiast to get involved. And while the the sensor choice is more or less locked far a beginner there are options for expandability. Both the IR Remote and the Bluetooth control have the capacity to add commands. The best use of this to me would be to have several modes of operation programmed in and use the remotes to select between them. And more advanced users could replace the Arduino Uno clone with an Arduino Mega. That way you could still use the Elegoo Robot Shield but gain dozens of IO points.
The Tutorials are included on a DVD disk which also contains the Arduino IDE if you didn’t have that. They are then divided into 6 lessons assembly, movement, Bluetooth, IR, avoidance, and line tracking. The assembly instructions are built from full color 3D models and most people that have used Lego would have no problem following along. The Movement Tutorial starts with a description of each part and instructions on Installing and using the Arduino IDE. The English isn’t perfect but the pictures are fantastic. Then there is some explanation on how skid steer works and sample code that lets you test each driving state: forward, reverse, left turn, and right turn. The car was much faster than I expected and I’m glad I put it in the middle of the room.
The Bluetooth Tutorial was next. It involves installing an app on your phone called BlueSPP. It is free but it does have ads. BlueSPP allows you to set up buttons and associate those buttons with commands that the HC-06 receives and passes to the Arduino. The tutorial gives you commands for the 4 driving states, stop, and the LED (this allows you to test the connection without powering the motors.) You also have room to add 6 additional commands for future testing. You have to be careful when driving with these commands as it will keep one command running until it receives another and it is fast. The best method is to frequently use the stop command. Driving carefully looks like: Forward-Stop-Right-Stop-Forward. The IR Tutorial is very similar except the included remote has a lot more buttons and you need line of site to control it. You also get the benefit of installing the IR library for your Arduino IDE so you can keep using IR even after you are done with the robot. Having both IR and Bluetooth available to you will be valuable for a lot of future projects but they don’t exactly make this kit a robot.
The next lessons do with Obstacle Avoidance and Line Following. The obstacle avoidance is based on driving in one direction until something is detected in front, at which point it stops, rotates the Sonar, calculates the distance to the left and right, and chooses an obstacle free path. The robot turns that direction and continues. This loop repeats until the batteries die. This thing will zip around a room and whip the sonar back and forth and it’s really fun to watch. I would challenge anyone after completing this tutorial to change it so the robot drives slowly and scans for obstacles as it drives to choose a path as it goes. The last tutorial is the line follower. I felt the robot moved a little fast for the tutorial’s included line following code to work as well as I’d like but it does follow a line and only loses it under sharp turns. Making modifications is a key skill when programming robots. These last two tutorials leave a lot of possibilities for future development and experimentation.
This kit is a great option for any beginner into robotics and for an experienced user that wants simple and complete hardware. You will learn how to use InfaRed and Bluetooth to control an Arduino and you will learn about how robots see and interact with the world around them. Elegoo has done a great job putting this kit together and at a fantastic price. You can buy the Elegoo Smart Robot Car Project Kit on Amazon. My plan is to take the Bluetooth off and Replace the Sonar with a Pixy for true robot vision. So you may want to Subscribe so you stay informed of that and the other robot kit reviews and tutorials we will post. Thanks for reading and Happy Roboting.