The Kosmos Robot Master is good, but not outstanding
This Kosmos robotics set gives young people an insight into the world of programming. Various self-assembled robot models should help in this. But will the Robot Master manage to be entertaining as well?
Build your own machines from over 200 parts and then program them via the app on your smartphone or tablet. Various experiments will help teach the block programming language «Scratch») to a new generation of coders. Motors and sensors help bring the robots to life and aim to deliver entertaining and interesting experiences. Future programmers can choose from eight models and perform predefined experiments with them. Creative minds might choose to create their own robots and operate them with homemade code. I'm testing whether Kosmos' Robot Master will teach, inspire and entertain budding coders and young programming aces alike.
Unboxing: big bricks and a whole lot of nothing
The box containing Kosmos' Robot Master is absolutely enormous. But when I open it, I'm only greeted by four small plastic brick bags, a bag for the battery compartment and two motors. And an almost 100-page A4 manual. Spoiler warning: there's no digital manual to be found. Not even in the app. I should be able to find anything I need in the enclosed booklet. This is neither ecological nor up to date. There's already potential for improvement. I also don't enjoy having to insert batteries – not included by the way – into the compartment provided. The Robot Master doesn't use a rechargeable battery either. If batteries are inserted, Bluetooth is automatically activated and can be located for one minute. Then you'll have to shake the battery compartment to turn it on again. Still, I don't think this thing is ever really off.
What annoys me is the half empty box. At first glance, the number of parts seems limited because you can build eight different robots with them. A panel in the box separates the upper from the lower area. All parts including the manual and motors are on top, the rest contains naught but empty space. The packaging itself is nicely designed and doesn't appear as childish as Tinkerbots' My first Robot. In my opinion, the appearance fits the target demographic between nine and fifteen years of age very well. According to the sticker on the box, the set is also compatible with other Kosmos kits.
Assembly: different, but not in a bad way
Kosmos starts off their manual with «Dear Parents». The manufacturer is keen to point out that parents or guardians should work with their offspring, at least initially. The sooner the children work out the solutions to the tasks by themselves and understand the programs behind them, the sooner they'll be able to deal with the Robot Master alone. Following this, individual elements that make up a robot are explained briefly and concisely. Then comes an overview of all the parts in the set, how to insert the batteries into the compartment, further details on the building instructions and how the app works. Now I have to check if the engines and the sensor are running. The batteries are inserted correctly and the connected parts are working.
A total of 230 parts are available. They can result in eight different models with three difficulty levels: easy, medium or heavy. There's a predefined program in the app for each model. At the end of assembly they're explained by way of the robot's movements. In addition, you can perform ten experiments that require additional material such as tape, a string or a ball. After all this is over and done, I can finally start assembling the first robot. A beetle, according to the manufacturer. The type and shape of the parts are new – they aren't comparable to LEGO or anything else I know. They're remarkably large as well. Almost as if they were made for infants. I'm completely fine with this. There's less pain in my fingertips during assembly and hardly any part falls off the table.
The tip to insert the batteries into the compartment right at the start is worth its weight in gold. Otherwise, depending on the model, I'd have to disassemble the robot to make up for that. The instructions are different from LEGO, but they're still convincing. I never lose the plot, always knowing which part I have to put where at what time whilst making rapid progress. A unique system, but it seems to be working. Incorrectly placed components stuck in place are easily removed with the help of an included mini-crowbar. During the final steps in construction, I integrate the two motors and the ultrasonic sensor, located in the head and eyes of the robot respectively. After about an hour and a half I connected the cables to the battery compartment and assembled the beetle. Well almost, a small part seems to be missing. You can order it via email or by phone from the manufacturer. However, it hardly affects the machinations of the beetle, so I leave it be.
Programming: no room to breathe
My incomplete beetle starts off its first run. The app's start screen displays green circles to indicate whether the ultrasonic sensor detects an obstacle. A number also indicates how far the obstacle is from the robot in centimetres. I click on the settings icon, opening the first program according to the instructions, and see eight blocks with white numbers and bars. The numbers indicate how long the corresponding coding block should be executed. The bars tell me how much the motors should turn and in which direction. I press the play button, the robot beetle moves its wings, goes back and forth and then nothing happens. It seems to be jammed. The manual says I should check the gears in case the robot stops moving. Thankfully the problem was fixed quite easily.
The app highlights which code block the robot is executing. In the first program, actions are limited to walking forwards and backwards and flapping your wings. This basic program allows for the robot to move forward until it detects an obstacle. If it's closer than 50 centimetres, it flaps its wings more slowly; if it's closer than 30 centimetres, they speed up. If the obstacle comes closer than 20 centimetres, the beetle crawls backwards. The whole process occurs in an endless loop. Additionally, I could transfer findings of what happens in the respective distance segments to the instructions. But I'll leave that to kids who are willing to learn. And that's everything the Beetle offers in combination with the app.
I flip through the manual and decide to build the Droid as well. The beetle didn't convince me, and I wanted to give the Robot Master another chance. Even if shaking the gears helps, the beetle variant jams again and again, completely disabling it. The Droid looks like a skeleton and should be able to walk upright. After about two hours I had completely disassembled the Robot Master and finished the new model. The program specified by the manufacturer lets the robot move forward until it encounters an obstacle. Waving its arms wildly the whole time.
If it encounters an obstacle it moves out of the way – where to exactly depends on the obstacle's distance. All the while opening and closing its mouth. Even whistling. But they emerge from the app instead. This model moves much less stagnant than the beetle. However, the Droid is extremely noisy and falls over from time to time. I like the idea and design of the Droid model better than the beetle. The whole set-up is cleverly done, implemented with relatively few parts and runs smoothly.
Game time: forward, backward, right and left
All robots can also be controlled remotely from the app's start screen without having to do any programming. However, the possibilities are limited to controlling the two motors. In addition to the given models and programs, you can also assemble and program your own robots. The final pages of the manual helped me with this. They explain what I have to consider when building my own engines and sensors. The programming blocks don't leave much room for manoeuvres. I can run the motors in two directions, work with the ultrasonic sensor, play sounds and insert pauses. But that's all there is to it. Other elements or additional programming languages aren't enabled. Not enough to keep me or any nine-year-old coming back to the Robot Master.
The bottom line: it's alright, but it could be better
The Robot Master has a few positive aspects. I find the size of the components very pleasant. I also enjoyed assembly and the instructions. The programming mode and free control are okay, but they're not legendary. Unfortunately the disadvantages outweigh the benefits. No battery, no spare parts in case one is lost, no digital manual, very limited programming possibilities and an app that offers little more than the absolute basics – a lot of untapped potential. Clearly not enough to justify a price tag over 100 francs. If you want to immerse yourself in robotics with your child, I recommend My first Robot from Tinkerbots for younger kids up to six or seven years. For older robotics novices and wannabe coders, Clementoni's Robomaker is the right choice. The Kosmos Robot Master does its best, but it can't keep up with the competition.
I don't know which robot I'm gonna do next. Will I be able to find one that offers something more after the rather average Kosmos model? Can it keep up with the Clementoni and Tinkerbots monsters? If you've got a suggestion, put it in the comments. If you want to be up-to-date and never miss any robotics or gadget highlights, click on the «Follow» button next to my author profile.
When I'm not stuffing my face with sweets, you'll catch me running around in the gym hall. I’m a passionate floorball player and coach. On rainy days, I tinker with my homebuilt PCs, robots or other gadgets. Music is always my trusted companion. I also enjoy tackling hilly terrain on my road bike and criss-crossing the country on my cross-country skis.
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