Mabot Teaches Robotics and Programming to New STEM Users

Gadget Labs has developed Mabot, a new system of robotics building to teaching programming and STEM concepts.

The Bell Educational Group works with kids aged 3 to 13 using robots as educational tools. After hearing from friends interested in STEM learning but not able to find tools to teach their children, the group developed Mabot. The modular robotics kit inspired by molecular structure, Mabot is built to teach new STEM users about robotics and programming.

Mabot consists of balls that act as the molecules performing separate functions and connected by patented connector pieces. A 760 milliAmp hour Battery Ball and the controller Brain Ball are required for every model. Driver Balls contain motors and act as propulsion for models while Sensor Balls can add robotic inputs into the system. Several other components can be added to create a variety of starter robotics projects. The Mabot GO app is already available and controls each robot.

Reese Zan, Mabot product manager, answered a few questions about the design and development of the system. During the design phase competing goals of low-cost and high function affected most design decisions. The goal was for every ball with a function to contain one chip and one sensor, and the design team had to find ways to do this with reliable components and a lower cost. The biggest programming challenge was figuring out how to accommodate users who would create larger robots, and how to power the units if more than one Battery Ball was used in a single robot. He also hopes that a future revision of the Mabots will allow the programming to take user intent and generate paths for controlling and driving.

Mabots and Gadget Labs sent a kit of parts for me to review with my 13 year old daughter and chief builder. The app gave great instructions for building and controlling all of the robots available to build from the starter kit. The joystick control is intuitive and each wheel is linked via color to make sure the system moves together. Connecting the components was easy after looking at the ninety degree interior ribs that allowed four different opportunities to lock each part. Some connection issues arose, and after driving each configuration into the walls a few times we’d have to stop and reassemble the parts to reconnect all of the electrical connections. After a few hours of assembly and disassembly my thumbs became sore from pulling the pieces apart and we discovered that a souvenir flattened penny was the best possible tool for disassembling pieces. I’ve since learned that each kit comes with a great injection molded ‘wrench’ that pops apart connected components. The build session also allowed for several discussions about distributing electricity throughout the models, and why wheels wouldn’t turn when the connections weren’t fully seated.

The biggest positives for Mabot are the already established and developed kits, distribution channels, and app available for download. Everything felt tested and already in production, past the prototype and tooling phases. A Kickstarter is planned for September, and the Mabot signup page allows users to sign up for news and alerts when the product is available for sale. In a makerspace already flooded with STEM kits for teaching robotics and programming, Mabot looks like a great addition.