BBC micro:bit board#
From the micro:bit page on Wikipedia:
The device is described as half the size of a credit card and has an ARM Cortex-M0 processor, accelerometer and magnetometer sensors, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, a display consisting of 25 LEDs, two programmable buttons, and can be powered by either USB or an external battery pack. The device inputs and outputs are through five ring connectors that form part of a larger 25-pin edge connector.
The micro:bit is available from many vendors, and it clearly makes sense to shop for the best value (and the best value based on currency). Some options:
- micro:bit £13.50 from Pimoroni
- BBC micro:bit US$14.95 from Adafruit
- BBC micro:bit Go Bundle US$17.50 (with USB cable, battery pack and 2x batteries) also from Adafruit
- BBC Micro:Bit in Gift Box (Microbit) £11.75 from 4Tronix
This page lists many of the micro:bit based robots available.
- BBC micro:bit board
- Available micro:bit Robots
- M.A.R.S. Rover Robot for Microbit or Pi Zero
- Waveshare Alphabot2
- Bit:Bot XL
- :MOVE Mini
- Robot:bit MK3
- Adafruit CRICKET for micro:bit
- Related Products
- Kitronik ZIP Halo HD for micro:bit
- Ultrasonic Sensor Module
- BitFace Robot Face Breakout
Choosing which of the many robotic microcomputer/microcontroller platforms (Raspberry Pi, Arduino, micro:bit, etc.), which of the various programming environments (graphical, Python, MicroPython, C++, assembly language), and then which specific robot has as much to do with a sense of one's goals and requirements as with which robot is most appealing to the eye. There's also the question as to whether to purchase a ready-made robot, a kit, or design-your-own from either an existing system or an entirely bespoke robot from available parts (truly "on your own"). And also whether to purchase something that grows with one's experience or is limited to the specifics of the chosen robot. Having the flexibility of multiple programming environments is a factor in any robot's favour.
That's a lot to think about.
The mini-Zumo robots are appealing if competition within a group is a requirement. These are generally Arduino-based, so they'd be programmed in C++. But very popular but they're somewhat limited beyond line following and knocking each other out of the ring.
I'm a bit of a fan of the 4Tronics products, having used their PiconZero Raspberry Pi controller. Their robots are visually appealing but less expandable and likely a bit more fragile than the aforementioned choices. They typically have a marker holder to let the robot draw on a piece of paper, but frankly I'd be concerned with having a marker-laden robot running over my wood floors. Line following and exploration are probably more interesting and educational endeavours.
For a "club robot", i.e., something that a group of people can cooperatively work on together, sharing ideas and designs, something that has a wide range of programming opportunities, and something that is very well-documented and used by a huge number of people, well, the BBC micro:bit platform is hard to beat.
Among the many micro:bit based robots the major factors were: durability, expandability, features-vs-cost, and lastly, aesthetics. While appearance may be considered important to children, my guess is that it's the parents who believe that cuteness counts. It probably does for the first ten minutes. After the cuteness wears off a child probably wants a robot that is something they can learn with and be intrigued by, one with a bit of depth. A Lego kit that can only be built one way is less interesting over the long haul than a set of Lego blocks that can continue to spur the imagination over many years.
The micro:bit can be used as a learning tool outside of robotic applications, and because of its edge connector needn't be soldered or permanently connected to a robot.
How old does someone have to be to use a micro:bit? That's not an easy question to answer, but "age level" is not so much a factor since it's pretty clear that a 10 year old and a 70 year old may share the same level of previous experience, interest, and ingenuity. Success is more about enthusiasm, curiosity, and how much time one devotes to learning than anything else.
With that said, our first choice for a micro:bit robot is the Waveshare Alphabot, as it has a lot of features for the money, and is probably the most durable of the micro:bit robots listed below.
While this may seem a bit advanced for beginners, the availability of motor encoders and a PID controller (in order to perform odometry) has been strongly recommended by members of the DPRG as a very valuable learning opportunity. The only robot that provides this functionality is the micro:Maqueen Plus, so if you're interested in learning the basics of odometry that'd be the first choice.
It'd be possible to add motor encoders to the Waveshare Alphabot, but that would entail swapping out the existing micro metal gear motors for ones with an extended motor shaft and one of the three motor encoder options (all available from Pololu). Not trivial, but certainly doable.
Available micro:bit Robots#
Generally, unless stated otherwise the micro:bit board is not included with the robot kits.
M.A.R.S. Rover Robot for Microbit or Pi Zero#
This is by far the most complicated micro:bit based robot available, and is certainly not an entry-level robot. This uses six micro metal gear motors and four servos.
It's included in the list here so you can see that a micro:bit robot need not be limited by any notion of the simplicity of its controller. You can also purchase a version of the Rover that uses a Raspberry Pi Zero W.
- Waveshare AlphaBot2 2WD Platform Kit for BBC micro:bit. US$63.99 without micro:bit from RobotShop, or US$81.99 including micro:bit directly from Waveshare
The Waveshare AlphaBot2 2WD Platform Kit for BBC micro:bit is designed to use with the BBC micro:bit (there are also versions of the Alphabot2 for Raspberry Pi and Arduino). It features rich common robot functions including line tracking, infrared obstacle avoiding, ultrasonic ranging, Bluetooth/2.4G remote control, etc.
This robot is perhaps not as pretty as some of the others (no rows of rainbow flashing LEDs, though it does have four RGB LEDs underneath its chassis) but is probably one of the more advanced, durable and better-designed of the micro:bit robots. It is also available for Arduino and Raspberry Pi.
Because this is the robot we've (locally) chosen to try out, more information may be found on its own Waveshare Alphabot2 page.
- 4Tronix Bit:Bot £39.90
It appears the Bit:Bot may be replaced by the Bit:Bot XL, as the former no longer appears on the 4Tronix website (though it is still available from some vendors).
The Minibit is the younger sibling of the popular and well-loved Bit:Bot. It comes ready-built (wheels need pushing on).
A Makecode extension is available. Blocks available for driving the motors, LEDs and optional ultrasonic sensor and line follower module as well as the other plugin breakouts.
- :MOVE mini MK2 buggy kit £27.60
Version 1.3 of this popular kit now uses a removable ultrasonic sensor, that uses the same connector as used on the Minibit and BitBot XL. This allows the use of alternative addons, such as the new BitFace, 5x5 FireLed Matrix and OLED.
Adafruit CRICKET for micro:bit#
- Adafruit CRICKIT for micro:bit US$29.95
Plug your micro:bit into the 40 pin edge connector and start controlling motors, servos, solenoids. You also get signal pins, capacitive touch sensors, a NeoPixel driver and amplified speaker output. It complements & extends micro:bit so you can still use all the goodies on the micro:bit, but now you have a robotics playground as well.
Kitronik ZIP Halo HD for micro:bit#
Ultrasonic Sensor Module#
This breakout is a simple and robust way to add ultrasonic distance sensing to your robot. Supported on BitBot XL, Pi2Go Mk2, Pi-Bug (v1.1 and later), Minibit and other 4tronix robots released from July 2019 onwards (including the Robobit Mk3, v1.3 onwards).
Available in standard and tall versions. The Tall version is intended for the BitBot XL with a Talon attachment. We recommend using the standard version for all other use cases.
BitFace Robot Face Breakout#
(Note that you can't use a BitFace and an Ultrasonic sensor at the same time, as they both plugin into the same socket.)
- micro:bit home page
- Adafruit micro:bit blog