A Review of Cublets Robot Blocks Twelve Kit from Modular Robotics

I have to admit, when I received the Cubelets to review, I couldn’t help but compare it to the Makerblock Neuron Inventor Kit that I just reviewed. Is it coming to the point where I’m reviewing a STEM product every week? If so, I’m cool with it.

So, let’s talk Cubelets. I don’t think I could have done this review if it wasn’t for my son, because he was really into them. Unlike a lot of STEM toys, which seem to emphasize coding, the Cubelets emphasizes creation. When my son started working with the Cubelets Twelve Kit, it was difficult getting him to quit.

When you get the Cubelets, they come in this box where they are packed in a particular pattern. You see, these Cubelets essentially lock together with magnets, and they come in a 2 x 4 formation, with another 2 cubes on each side. I hope that isn’t too confusing of a description, and I might have to do some kind of unboxing to really show off this product, hmmmm…..

So here’s the deal. Each of the Cubelets has a function, and by connecting them together in different ways, you can make a kind of machine that can do all kinds of things. Fortunately, it came with instructions.

I’ll start with the Battery Block, which can be charged with a micro-USB. I noticed the Flashlight Block with a light bulb, and so I connected the Battery Block with it and turned it on. I saw a small green light on the Battery Block, and there was a small light on the Flashlight Block as well.

However, the bulb on Flashlight didn’t glow. I wondered if I did something wrong, but I then connected one of the Distance Blocks (yes, there are two of these particular Cubelets). This Distance Block had a sensor that could detect my hand in front of it, and when connected to the Battery Block and Flashlight Block, I created a luminescent flashlight that allowed me to change the brightness as my hand got closer to it. Granted, covering the Distance Block didn’t do anything, but you see what I am getting at. You see, I could magnetically lock these three blocks together in just about any order, and it worked.

So then I tried the Brightness Block, and I had a flashlight that was somewhat solar powered. The more light I shown on the brightness sensor of the Brightness Block, the brighter the Flashlight Block shone.

Are you getting this now? So let’s hook up the Drive Block, or two of them, because there are two. The Drive Block has these two rollers that look like small rolling pins. I can control their speeds in the same way that I controlled the brightness of the Flashlight Blocks.

So, yes, there is a lot that you can do with these. There are some other blocks like the Passive Block, which is like a wire of this Cubelets (that makes sense if you work with them). Then there is the Blocker Brick, capable of blocking a signal. What is really interesting is the Inverse Block, which essentially makes the Distance Block or Brightness Block have the opposite effect.

So there really is a lot you can do with this, and there is even a Bluetooth Block so you can sync it to your smartphone or tablet. To make this even more constructive, it comes with a male and female LEGO compatible brick. When you use these, you can make LEGO creations spin and go, just like some Technic or even MINDSTORMS creations.

I believe that the Cubelets is one of the finest educational toys, and the Twelve kits are available on the Modular Robotics site for $275.00.

Our Review of the Makeblock Neuron Inventor Kit

We have had the opportunity to review a lot of great products related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) technology before, and the Makeblock Neuron Inventor Kit is up there with stuff from UBTECH as well as LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3. Those are some plugs for my books, by the way, but I wish I had more time to write about the Makeblock Neuron Inventor Kit.

It is difficult to talk about the Makeblock Neuron Inventor Kit, but for those of you who are familiar with the aforementioned STEM toys, it might seem run-of-the-mill. Please don’t think that comment as this is a bad review, but the fact remains, it would probably take me a proper month to review the Makeblock Neuron Inventor Kit. As it is, I really only afford a long day to review this.

I’ll try by describing what is in the box, or at least on top of the box. There are these blocks, one of them is for power, and even has the international power symbol on it. There are other blocks labelled “Buzzer”, “Gyro Sensor”, “Servo Driver”, “Bluetooth”, and “Funny Touch”. There are others here that I won’t go into for now, but needless to say, connecting certain blocks together allows different things to occur. You can see what the individual blocks look like here:

For example, I found that I could connect the Power to the Gyro Sensor and that to a Buzzer. What did I get? I device that, if moved, will buzz. This is essentially what programming is, linking together all the individual tasks until they can successfully perform one big old task.

So yes, the Makeblock Neuron Inventor Kit is made so you can link blocks together and download code into them. Yes, there are other kits that can do the very same thing, but I have to admit the this is the first kit that I have seen that comes with these paper things for some series hard paper crafting. Like most of these kits, it comes with an app, and I was able to see instructions for making an excited rabbit that can make faces.

Of course, you can build a lot more, that’s for dang sure. Of course, the possibilities are infinite, and this is helped as its pieces are compatible with LEGO. Oh yes, so anything that you can make with Technic and MINDSTORMS is good to go for the Makeblock Neuron Inventor Kit.

So yes, I am going to recommend the Makeblock Neuron Inventor Kit, particularly if you are into STEM projects. Even if you aren’t this could be the thing that really gets you into it. It can be purchased on the Makeblock store for $119.99.

Our Review of the Jimu Robot Tankbot from UBTECH

tankbotIn case you are wondering, this is a sequel review to our review of the Buzzbot and Muttbot. This is the same robot building kit from Jimu Robot from UBTECH, and you can read my review of that at the link, as well as my comparison to Lego.

The Tankbot is one of those robot kits where I am surprised that all the pieces that are in the kit are used, with only a few exceptions. Generally, the Lego collections allow for more than one creation. In the case of the Tankbot, what you see is the main thing that you can build, but you can build a lot with it.

Okay, I suppose that I should stop making Lego comparisons. Perhaps I can just get this other comparison out of the way and say that the Tankbot resembles a certain robot who was the star of a Pixar film. I mean, look at the colors of orange and black! I’ll spell it out for you: Tankbot is WALL-E.

The Tankbot is not able to crush garbage into little cubes, but he does have some cool tank treads. He can also reach out and grab things. My son and I tried it out and we found that he was quite adept at grabbing soda cans.

Like the Buzzbot/Muttbot, it comes with six servos, which are the small motors used to power certain things. In this case, it can operate both treads individually, which allows the Tankbot to turn on a dime with the remote control.

I have already talked about how the Jimu Robots use an Apple or Android device for Bluetooth wireless control in my last review, but there is something else that the Buzzbot/Muttbot doesn’t have. This has an infrared sensor that allows the Tankbot to pick up, detect, and maneuver objects around it. It is possible to program this, but I have to admit that I didn’t spend a lot of time doing this. My son seemed to take it on and was getting used to it in minutes.

Yes, this is one of those STEM toys that will educate kids as well as entertaining them. It is a toy that I will recommend, just like I will recommend the other models. You can get it for about $149.95.

As a holiday bonus, I have an unboxing video here with me and my son! This one addresses the Buzzbot/Muttbot, as well as the Tankbot.

Our Review of the Jimu Robot BuzzBot and MuttBot Kit from UBTECH

Jimu Website Product Detail A NEWAs someone who has written a book about Lego Technic and Lego Mindstorms, I was very pleased to review the Jimu Robot Buzzbot and MuttBot Kit from UBTECH. There is going to be a lot of comparison made to Lego, but please keep in mind that the Jimu Robot kits are definitely their own thing. It’s like those people who think that Star Trek and Babylon 5 are the same, when they are very, very different.

Yeah, this is going to get really geeky, but in a very Maker way. I mentioned in my review on the Circuit Scribe how there is a great emphasis on STEM learning with building kits designed for young hands. I would say that UBTECH’s Jimu Robot kits would fall under that category.

The kit itself has the picture of what you see here, and I had a chance to make the MuttBot. On inspecting the pieces, I found that some of them looked like Lego Technic. I noticed a lot of beams with holes in them designed for connector pegs, and I understand if you might not know what I am talking about. Just so you know, the Jimu Robot parts are not compatible with anything Lego. I tried to fit them together, and the holes are smaller than that of Lego.

The box opened to reveal lots of interesting boxes in pastel colors marked with peculiar labels. The blue “Main Control Box” was set up with what I believe is the brain and heart of this, a small gray box with many ports. The “Recharging Power Adapter” was a plug-in that charged the gray box. Then I noticed the “Robotic Servo Motors” which had these motors on them that could spin, when properly powered.

The box of “Fasteners” really intrigued me as it contained wires as well as a small gray box with an on/off switch. The rest were these connector peg things that were very small and could easily get lost.

Then there were the other boxes that were full of non-technical parts. The “Character Parts” was so named because it will give the creation character. I think that is the best way to describe it. Now, the last box of “Connectors” had these parts that had these interesting slots on them for sliding parts into place, and this is what is difficult to describe.

Generally, most Lego kits come with detailed instruction booklets on how to build models. The Lego Mindstorms sets have to be downloaded as programs for your computer, but I didn’t see any option of viewing the instructions on my PC. I was able to download the app on my mobile device, and the Jimu robots app is good for Android and iOS.

I kind of wish that the instructions were available on my PC, so I could see them better. However, it was handy to have them on my touchscreen, where I could pinch to zoom and rotate the individual steps in three dimensions.

imag1657I got my son to help me, and things seemed to be going pretty smooth. We did have some problems with the connector wires, which looked like they would break easily if we unplugged them. I had to contact UBTECH to make certain that it was okay to yank them out. Needless to say, it was all right.

I also realized that we had to align the servos correctly, and they are marked to spin properly. You have to check it out for yourselves, and I like how it is marked. I also like how the servos are small motors that are smaller than what is on Lego Technic or Mindstorms.

We also had trouble on the instructions because some of the parts didn’t match exactly on the instructions. It did not affect the model or its functionality.

It took about two hours worth of work, but we had the MuttBot assembled. From there, I thought it was going to be frustrating getting it working, but it actually turned out to be quite simple. The application helped pair with my smartphone, and I was able to make the MuttBot walk and do all sorts of pre-programmed tricks.

My son also discovered that he could program the Servos so he could do all kinds of tricks. What is strange is when we programmed a servo to move, we could see it happen virtually on my mobile device.

I can see that there is a lot that we can do with these Jimu Robots, and I haven’t really discovered everything as yet. However, since this kit allows some kind of exploration, I will want to learn more.

Anyway, I am going to be reviewing another UBTECH robot kit next week, but I can’t get into that right now. I highly recommend getting a BuzzBot and MuttBot kit for yourself, at the Jimu robot site here.

BlueBee Pals Leo the Lion, a Talking Educational Learning Tool

bluebee-petsIt seems like I am filled to the brim with reviewing educational toys, and this one is the Bluebee Pals. Before I get to the review, I would like to thank whoever sent it to me, because it came to my door without any warning. So here is our review of Leo the Lion.

I suppose that the best way that I can describe our Leo the Lion is just compare him to Teddy Ruxpin. Yeah, you probably saw that one coming, as this is how my wife described it when I showed it to her. If you are not familiar with Teddy Ruxpin, it was a Teddy Bear with a tape recorder on his back. When you put in specially made tapes, his lips would move with the dialogue.

Leo The Lion, as well as other animals in the Bluebee Pals collection, has the same basic ability. However, it is made for the age of smartphones and tablets, and it will sync via Bluetooth to any Apple or Android device. Not only will it read a story to your youngster, but he or she can see it acted out on the screen.

Some might find that a little weird, but people have been saying that since the days of … Teddy Ruxpin. Of course, no machine can take place of a parent, and if you need a reminder, the parent doesn’t say things like “remind to charge”. Yeah, you do need to charge this thing with the included USB Micro-charger cable.

You can get Leo the Lion on the Bluebee Pals site for $64.99. You can also find his friends Hudson the Puppy, Riley the Zebra, Parker the Monkey, and Sammy the Bear for the same price.

Circuit Scribe Maker Kit Review

circuit-scribe-1One of the things that I enjoy about being a tech reviewer is that I often get to try out the most unique of products. The Circuit Scribe Maker Kit is definitely one of those items that is difficult to describe, but it could change a generation.

The closest thing that I could come up with is one of those circuit/science kits. I remember that my sister had this thing that had all kinds of projects, and you would wire things to other things, and yeah, I’m just not doing a good job of this.

Perhaps this is a better intro: the Circuit Scribe is made for Makers. Yes, I actually think this is the first time that I talked about Maker culture on this website, and it usually gets grouped with words like STEM and ways of learning about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics by doing and building.

circuit-scribe-2You can build a lot with this Maker Kit. The purpose the Maker Kit from Circuit Scribe is to teach kids (and adults) about building circuits. What is interesting is how you build them, it’s not like there is a green board or something. Instead, all you need is some paper and these modules.

Oh yes, you will also need a pen. This pen has some kind of ink that allows it to conduct electricity. There are about eleven modules and a 9 volt battery, and you can use the pen’s ink to connect them together.

You can learn a lot about LED lights, Switches, Transistors, and Resistance. If you don’t know what those are, and how those apply to electronics, this Maker Kit is for you. Yes, you can make a lot with this, and it is quite versatile with a buzzer, blinker, and all sorts of things.

If you want to learn as you build, head on over to the Circuit Scribe site and lay down about $79.99 on the Maker Kit. You should also check out what is available on the Circuit Scribe site and learn a lot more.

Review of the Ozobot Bit

OzobotThe first time that I saw Ozobot, it was at CES. There was a table with these little things the size of little bugs oozing around on the table. All I could think about was how cute it was. The Ozobot movies through two micro-motors for some serious maneuverability.

As it is, the Ozobot Bit is one of those STEM toys. For those that don’t know, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and there are a lot of toys out there that I reviewed before like the LEGO Mindstorms and Makeblock Mbot.

The Ozobot Bit is one of those toys that you can code, because everyone knows that kids like to code. Okay, I might sound a little sarcastic there, but kids that are raised doing coding are definitely more ready for adulthood programming. In the case of Ozobot, it uses Google’s Blockly to create OzoBlockly which is a very simplified visual programming language similar to others like Scratch, Hopscotch, App Inventor, Tynker, and Tickle Apps.

So, you might think that you have to program this using some kind of cable or Bluetooth to program this. That is not the case, as you can load commands into the robot with flashing lights. You can teach it to follow paths along the table that you can make with magic marker, and it will follow whatever colors that you program it with.

What is interesting is that the Ozobot communicates back with blinking lights as well. It is possible to download free apps as well as build some custom maps, and play some games with people.

Okay, there is really no way that I can describe how much that you can do with this, so if you are interested in it, you can find out more about it here. The Ozobot 2.0 is available for about $59.95 on Amazon.

Casio PRIZM fx-CG10 graphing calculator with full-color display

casio fx-cg10I find it hard to believe that I have reviewed very few calculators in my career as a tech reporter. If it were thirty years ago, the most advanced computer technology was the calculator. The last one was the Casio FX-9860GII Graphing Calculator, and this new PRIZM fx-CG10 has one stand-out feature: color.

Think about it. Most calculators that you have ever used are in black-and-white, even the cool graphing ones. Honestly, most people have calculators on our cell phones, but there is now a very cool calculator called the PRIZM fx-CG10 which takes it even greater than our modern-day smartphones.

That’s right, do not be fooled by the fact that it looks like a dumb-phone. I guarantee you that this is the coolest display that you will see, simply because you don’t expect to see something capable of 65,000 colors here.

So not only can it do all the usual math and hook up to the computer via USB, it has a Picture Plot, a feature to enable the user to plot a graph with a picture of something in the background.

All in all, it is kind of cool, and something like this can be a good stocking stuffer for the student on a Christmas list. It is pretty high-priced at $129.00, but it might be worth it. You can get it here.

MusicInk allows you to play a piece of paper

What you are seeing in this video is the MusicInk, an it is quite interesting. I highly suggest watching it so you can see something that is difficult to describe.

This is how it works. You can use the MusicInk to paint something, and then connect it to an Arduino Duemilanove board and Sparkfun MPR121 controller. After the MusicInk has dried, you can play it like notes. Seriously, you can play a paper like a piano, smack a certain spot like a drum, and strum a few bars.

In all honesty, I can only see this being used in one place: elementary school music lessons. Should I put MusicInk on my wallpaper?


Leap Frog presents the LeapReader Reading and Writing System

21301_LF01If you are familiar with Leap Frog, then you probably know it as a company that makes education electronic toys, usually with a green and white color scheme. I recently had a chance to try out the LeapReader, which isn’t really made for my age group, but for those learning to read.

The LeapReader would best be referred to as a smartpen. This isn’t one of those pens that you can write on a board, and then save it to your computer. This would be a pen that allows you to tap on a special book, and it will literally read to you.

There are over 150 plus books, workbooks, and audio books in the LeapReader library, and I would probably recommend it on a long trip. It even has a headphone jack so the adults don’t have to hear it. In addition to the “read to me” feature, the LeapReader also has a nifty feature of making a game of the book. For example, there is this one game that I played where you had to identify countries in Africa by placing the tip of the pen on the individual country. It is actually pretty tough, and I am an adult.

There are also workbooks that allow the young user to learn how to write letters by tracing them on a page. As I mentioned before, playing audiobooks is also possible, and the controls on the pen resemble that of an MP3 Player.

I honestly believe that the LeapReader could be more improved, but this is only because I see the potential of linking a computer with a pen. The pencil is one of the first tools that young people wield, so why not make it electronic, and able to teach.

You can purchase the LeapReader on the Leap Frog site for $49.99.