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Grove Inventor Kit + BBC micro:bit - Review

Scoring

Product Performed to Expectations: 10
Specifications were sufficient to design with: 8
Demo Software was of good quality: 9
Product was easy to use: 10
Support materials were available: 9
The price to performance ratio was good: 8
TotalScore: 54 / 60
  • RoadTest: Grove Inventor Kit + BBC micro:bit
  • Buy Now
  • Evaluation Type: Development Boards & Tools
  • Was everything in the box required?: Yes
  • Comparable Products/Other parts you considered: ElecFreaks Micro:bit Tinker Kit, Flotilla - Medium Starter Kit,
  • What were the biggest problems encountered?: None.

  • Detailed Review:

    What is Grove Seeed

    Seeed Studio create a wide variety of electronic modules for Arduino, Raspberry Pi and Microbit. All there modules and shields use the same 4 pin connectors and sockets, this plug-and-play system makes the process much more user friendly and accessible. Many newcomers struggle with the fiddly nature of breadboards and jumper cables.

    Their online store has a vast array reasonably priced modules and come with detailed online documentation and support for the most popular platforms.

     

    Unboxing and First Impressions

    The Grove Inventor Kit comes in a compact box, each module comes in a labelled plastic pouch with a short description sticker. The Board and LED strips comes in an Anti-static bag.

    Everything was well packaged and easy to find. The colourful and clear packaging makes it easy to work out what everything is, and adds a bit of protection to the components, nothing was damaged on arrival.

     

    Contents

    The pack included:

    1x Grove Shield for Micro:bit

    Uses a cartridge slot to dock the micro:bit in at the centre of the board, well soldered and well secured to the board

    The main feature of this shield is to break out the micro:bit connection pads into four Grove sockets.

    It also features connections pads around the outside for pins 8,13,12,1,2,0, Ground and 3Volt power. Crocodile clips are included to connect to these, most of these pins aren't used by the grove sockets and adds a lot of functionality.

    There is also a micro-USB port on the side of the board to deliver power directly to the pins/microbit, allowing you to power the mircobit from a USB power bank etc, however you cannot flash your code over this connection, you'll need to use the usb on the micro:bit for this.

    It also features a connector on the side for the Grove Zero Modules, a magnetic modular platform similar to 'littlebits'. more info on the Grove Zero can be found here.


    1x Speaker

    Good Quality audio, there's a lot of built in music and sound support for the Micro:bit so this module really helps to unleash the potential of the board

    1x Rotary Angle Sensor

    A rotary potentiometer, easy to turn compared to most pots.

    1x Ultrasonic Ranger

    Provides distances in CM or Inches, accurate to a few mm. These sensors require a really secure connection to work properly, which is one of the strengths of the Grove Seeed system.

    1x Light Sensor v1.2

    Detects the amount of light shining on the sensor

    1x WS2812 Waterproof LED Strip - 30 LEDs 1 meter

    A very cool LED strip, very robust and bright. If you want to display all pixels as white light at the same time, you'll need to use the USB connection on the shield to ensure it has enough power. This is the same on an Arduino UNO, there just isn't enough power from the pins to go full white light.

    1x Gesture Sensor

    There is fantastic package support for this module making it very easy to use. I have used the module with an Ardunio before and the logic is very complex

    1x 4-Digit Display

    Another module with fantastic package support

    1x Red LED

    The module allows you to switch out different coloured LED's

    1x Micro USB Cable - 48cm

    Good quality cable with adequate length

    1x Projects Manual

    Colourful, well laid out, easy to follow and packed full of great project ideas.

    10x Alligator/Crocodile Cable

    Good design on the rubber guards means they are less lightly to slip down the wire as cheaper wires tend to do.

    8x Grove Cable (4pin)

    One for each module, included in the module bags. the LED strip cable is built into the component

     

    Documentation

    Each module comes with a short description sticker with basic instructions, however the heart of the kit is the Project Guide booklet. It is well designed with very clear diagrams, instructions and code examples. It outlines 12 step by step projects you can create with kit, along with ideas on follow up experiments. It covers concepts such as Bar Graphs, Digital Read/Write, Analog Read/Write, Variables, Logic.

     

    Project Guide

     

    The projects in this guide are really inventive and fun, they are ordered in difficulty from easy to challenging. If someone who only had basic experience with the micro:bit picked up this project book, they could become quite competent just from following the tutorials.

    I'd estimate it would take a beginner a full day to go through all the challenges and spend some time experimenting with each one. The booklet covers all the modules included in the kit and takes you through wiring, coding and what to do with your new invention.

    The only thing the guide does not cover in detail is transferring the code to your microbit, this would only effect complete beginners who had never coded on the mirco:bit before.

    An online PDF of the guide is available here.

     

    Classroom use

    I took the kit out to show a small group of secondary school students who attend a code code. Student had used the built in features on the micro:bit before and had used some cartridge adaptors for driving servo and Dc motors. Quite a few are confident enough to code independently. After a brief introduction to the modules and their function, and showing pupils how to add the Grove and neopixel package, they were able to create their own projects using the modules. This would not have been possible using a traditional edge connector, as they would have needed a lot of support/instruction at the wiring phase. In the past I've had a few electrical components short out due to being wired improperly, so it was good to know this wouldn't be possible with this kit. The shield retails for under £10 and the Seeed modules are quite affordable so for the usage a class or code club could get from this platform it does feel like good value for money. The modules are quite robust and didn't get damaged, even through rigours use, there are also no small parts to get lost in the carpet.

     

     

    Personal Testing

    Most my electronic projects develop into a spiderweb of wires, making it very time consuming when something isn't working and each wire needs to be checked. Jumper cables are low profile and cheap, but have a tenancy of falling out. This plug-and-play nature of this electronics was great to keep everything organised and well secured. It was easy to swap modules out without too much downtime between experiments. The Grove package support allows you to pull off some quite complex things with ease. I was however limited by the amount of connections available, as each module takes up 1 of 4 connections. The Arduino and Raspberry shields have a lot more sockets to use, however as the microbit is aimed at newcomers to electronics it's more than adequate for most beginner projects. As the micro:bit has built it radio/Bluetooth this limitation could be overcome by using multiple boards which communicate with each other.

    I have a bag of spare Grove cables, so got to work testing if some non-Grove components would work.

    SG90 9g Servo motors worked great, you just need some spare male-male jumpers to connect them

    HC-SR04 Ultrasonic Distance Rangefinder didn't work with the Grove Ultrasonic Library.

    HC-SR501 PIR Senor worked well

    It a bit of a squeeze to get the jumpers to fit in the socket without stripping the plastic off, but it does form a sturdy connection.

    Drawbacks

    The main drawback to this product is lack of library or package support for Seeed modules not included in the kit, limiting the users exploration to whats included in the box a number of simple sensors/ outputs. Most Seeed modules come with fantastic documentation and libraries for Arduino and Raspberry pi, but the micro:bit is currently not included. Seeed have said more Package support is on the way for current modules, a full list of currently compatible modules can be found here. In time, the Grove Shield with continued support from the company could bring the Micro:bit in-line with the Arduino and Raspberry pi in terms of versatility and compatibility.

     

     

    Conclusion

    A great kit for beginners and experienced users a like. Takes a lot of the hassle out of coding and wiring and allows you to really explore the potential of fun and exciting electronic projects. Definitely one to watch in the future when Grove release more module support.


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