Elegoo is a company that I know quite well for their 3D printers. So when the opportunity came up to try out one of their Arduino robot kits, I was really excited. The Owlbot is one of their newest kits and we were delighted to receive one from Elegoo for this review.
The Owlbot is a robot car with an assortment of sensors onboard. The ultrasonic sensors that it uses for obstacle avoidance are styled to look a little like an owl’s eyes. These are placed at the front of the car, along with an LED display screen.
For something called Owlbot, it’s not really that owl-like. It feels like someone thought a piece looked a bit owlish, and they just went with it. What it is, is a pretty neat robot car kit. Once it’s built, it’s preprogrammed with a few modes. It can follow a line and avoid obstacles without any need to connect to. When you do connect to it using the app, you get a lot more functionality. But I’ll talk about that later.
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What’s In The Box
The Elegoo Owlbot kit comes in a well-packed and surprisingly small box. All the pieces are split into different packages and bags, which helps you identify all the parts. A nice touch is that it comes with a screwdriver, so you literally have everything you need to put it together.
This is a pretty compact little robot car, so there aren’t too many pieces. You get:
- Car body
- Control Board
- 3x Wheels
- 2x Motors
- Line tracking Module
- Ultrasonic Sensor
- LED Dot Matrix Module
- Expression Panel (an opaque screen to protect the LEDs
- Assorted cables and screws
The instruction sheet is enormous! I had to spread it out on the floor because it was so big. The size makes it a little awkward to follow the instructions. Some of the most useful pieces of information are tucked away in a corner where you can miss them. But, the reason for these big instructions is the track that’s printed on the back.
Once you’re all done building, you can flip the instructions over and put your Owlbot into line tracking mode. It’ will then follow the pattern on the back of the sheet. It is immensely satisfying. My son could have sat and watched it going round and round for hours.
My kids are a little young for this toy yet, so I did the building. A few bits required quite a bit of dexterity, so I would imagine that some 8-year-olds might need some help with a few of the steps. That said, it all went together really smoothly and nicely. The screws are of good quality, as is the car chassis.
I built the Owlbot following the paper instructions. As I mentioned earlier, they are huge, making it a little harder to find the information. But I did get it together. Once I had it up and running, I discovered a video you can follow to help you build it.
On watching the video, I discovered that there was actually a cover on the expression plate that I was supposed to take off. There was no mention of this on the instructions! So, with that in mind, I would absolutely recommend using the video guide. It’s a really good video and gives you all the essential instructions that I had to figure out myself.
The case for the control board does have some ‘bumps’ on top. This allows you to connect Lego pieces to the car. This means that you can quite easily give the vehicle some arms so it can push things around. It’s a pretty small feature, but for some kids, it might just make this toy more appealing.
The Owlbot can be controlled using an app that you can download onto devices running android or iOS. You can do quite a lot with the app, but it’s not the most intuitive program in the world. However, there is also a video you can watch that explains how to use it. Again I’d recommend giving it a quick watch.
There are two main ways you can use the app. It can work as a simple remote control, or you can write some basic programs for the Owlbot utilizing a drag and drop system.
With the remote control, you can drive the car around, and it’s pretty responsive. There are two control methods. One uses joystick controls essentially. The other involves drawing lines. I think most kids will just stick with the joystick controller as it’s a lot more intuitive.
You can make the Owlbot play musical notes with a Xylophone-type screen. You can change the LED display to anything you want. There are a few preset options, but you can also draw your own. There is also a light on the back of Owlbot, and you can change its color.
From the remote control, you can also switch on the line tracking mode. In this setting, it will follow lines that it can see beneath it. I found that thick black lines, like those on the back of the instruction sheet, work best. The other mode is the obstacle avoidance mode. It’s so-so at this. My son built a few walls for it using various toys. After a bit of trial and error, we found that it struggles to see dark objects. Pastel-colored shapes worked the best for getting it to change direction.
The programming on the app is done by dragging and dropping components together. They are split into different colors depending on the type of instructions. For instance, motion is green, control is yellow, and light and sound are blue. You can also use the sensor for instructions.
I would recommend using a tablet if you want to try coding. Using a phone screen, you’ll run out of space before you can write too many instructions.
The system is easy to use and is actually quite flexible. You could program this robot to do some quite complex actions. My 7-year-old nephew had a play with the coding system for me. When I copied his program over to the Owlbot, it did what he wanted – It spun around and sang a little tune.
If you want to get a little more out of this kit, you may want to explore the ability to program it from your desktop. The control board that Owlbot uses is essentially an Arduino Nano. That means that you can use IDE to play with the code.
Unless you knew this was a possibility, you could easily miss it. The instructions that come with the robot don’t mention this as a possibility at all, despite it coming with the necessary cables to connect it to your computer.
Elegoo does provide some sample code and suggested projects. However, most of the projects require you to buy extra pieces. Their projects aren’t going to teach you how to code.
The best way to look at this aspect of Owlbot is that it makes it a useful tool for letting kids practice their coding skills. It takes coding out from the computer and turns it into something more tangible.
Things I Liked
Programming Inside The App
The drag and drop coding is excellent. It’s easy to use and has enough depth that you can get quite creative. If you’re buying for younger kids, then I think this programming is a good fit for kids of around 7-8 years old. It feels like Scratch and other drag and drop style codes, so it should be familiar for any kids who have met code before.
The quality of the components is excellent. All the pieces fit together well. The edges are all smooth and well finished. All the screws go in easily, and you can easily take it apart many times without worry. I was really impressed with the quality of all the pieces.
Because the control board is compatible with Arduino, there is a lot of potential to do a whole range of exciting projects. This is a toy that can be an intro to coding for young kids. It can then be something they come back to at a later date once they’ve learned more. Because you can take it apart easily and add extra pieces, it has a lot of potential, which is a real plus.
When you build things with kids, it really helps if there is an immediate payoff. In this case, you build the robot, and you can turn it on, and it just works. Because it’s preprogrammed to avoid objects and follow lines, you get an immediate sense of satisfaction. It’s the kind of experience that will encourage kids to keep trying these sorts of activities.
Things That Could Be Better
I just wish that the instructions were as good as the materials. It feels like there are a few rough translations, and the format isn’t quite right. It’s a small complaint and certainly wouldn’t be enough to stop me from buying the Owlbot.
Finding What You Need
This is kind of in the same vein as my issue with the instructions. Finding everything you need on the website is a little challenging, mostly because you don’t know it’s there. On the plus side, by reading this review, you know what resources there are, so you don’t have to share my frustrations!
Computer vs. App
This robot does feel a little like it has a split personality. The app is clearly aimed at younger kids, while the computer programming side is more suited to older kids. Don’t get me wrong, I like both pieces. I would just like it if there was something that linked the two together.
I genuinely like this little robot. It ticks a lot of boxes. It’s a useful tool for introducing kids to robots and coding. It would be an excellent first robot for an 8-year-old who hasn’t coded before. Because some of the construction is a little fiddly, the build would be a fantastic project to do with a parent.
For teens, I think there is a lot to offer here as well. The more ‘grownup coding’ option makes this a good choice for challenging experienced coders.
Last update on 2021-02-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API