|Product Performed to Expectations:||9|
|Specifications were sufficient to design with:||10|
|Demo Software was of good quality:||8|
|Product was easy to use:||8|
|Support materials were available:||7|
|The price to performance ratio was good:||10|
|TotalScore:||52 / 60|
This is my review of the Arduino Engineering kit, an Arduino product in collaboration with MathWorks. I have been a big fan of both of these teams and a long time user of their respective products which is why I was so interested in reviewing this product. Much appreciation to Arduino, MathWorks, and Element14 for allowing me to review this kit.
From first viewing this kit, I can see that this is a very ambitious product that strives to teach a combination of important concepts varying from electronics, programming, and mechanics. At the center of it all, is Arduino’s new MKR1000 board, a development board built for developing IoT projects. Other boards include the MKR motor shield for driving DC motors, stepper motors, and servos, and the MKR IMU shield which includes a gyro and accelerometer.
The kit includes the necessary components for three projects: a drawing robot, a mobile rover, and a self-balancing motorcycle. Each project focuses on different electrical and mechanical designs, giving students a variety of projects to learn from. Each project has its own unique learning goals, which keep each project individualized and interesting and extends the reusability of the overall kit. The drawing robot focuses on trigonometric theory for movement and image processing for replicating images. The mobile rover focuses on a differential drive mechanism, PID controllers using Simulink, image processing in real time, and wireless communication.The self-balancing motorcycle focuses on PID control relating to data from the IMU shield and wireless communication. I will go into further detail about building these projects but will focus mainly on the mobile rover project as it was the most interesting to me.
All of these parts come packaged in a nice, double-decker toolkit. All of the laser cut acrylic are organized in bags according to project. Included with the hardware, is a LiPo battery and battery charger, a USB camera for the image recognition components, an ultrasonic sensor, and a couple of DC motors.
Figure 1: A top view of the Arduino Engineering Kit
Figure 2: The included list of parts
Figure 3: An internal view of the kit
Figure 4: The laser cut parts separated by project
Figure 5: The included Arduino boards
The contents of this engineering kit are not limited to the kit itself but also a complementary educational website. I will also review various components of this website as I believe that it is just as integral to the overall experience of the product as the physical components.
Provided with each kit is a code for the course website that is associated with your Arduino account. Each kit is also provided with a code for a one-year license of MATLAB and Simulink which I think is amazing for students or educators. Both of these products are prominently used in industry while having expensive licenses, making it difficult for those outside large corporations to obtain them. Thus, I think this is a great deal to provide real-world experiences to students for the listed price of $300.
The website is separated into six chapters which provides a nice, curated experience with the kit. The first chapter broadly introduces the user to the product. The second chapter covers the basics of interacting with Arduino, MATLAB, and Simulink. The third chapter covers various electrical engineering concepts that will be implemented in the projects. The remaining three chapters are dedicated to the respective three projects included with the kit.
I was most impressed with chapter 2 and the inclusion of chapter 3 for various reasons. Firstly, Arduino, MATLAB, and Simulink are important development tools for the budding to the experienced engineer. I have found that university classes may attempt to teach these subjects separately over the course of a semester. To teach a combined curriculum of these subjects is well executed by this kit’s development team as they provide both the basics as well as application of these tools. I am happy that chapter 3 actually goes over engineering concepts because this teaches students how to apply the knowledge to future projects. I find often with other engineering kits, they focus solely on building the included project. This limits the use of those products after they are finished. If someone is a beginner, what have they learned? What do they take away? Arduino’s engineering kit, on the other hand, promotes further exploration by teaching the why and how of an electrical-mechanical system. In addition, each project chapter has additional exercises for people to explore. I think that it is this balance of curation and exploration that really sets this kit apart from others as a teaching tool.
Each project chapter is composed of an introduction and building video followed by step-by-step sub-chapters for implementing the project. The building video is unique in that it shows a 3D model of the project being assembled. This gets the job done for assembling your own project however, it can be difficult to see exactly where parts are being placed. I would recommend that new objects are highlighted or somehow differentiated from the background. The names for the various nuts and screws are sometimes not labeled so, users are then confused on exactly what part they are asking for.
In the case of my mobile rover project, the two arm pieces where incorrectly cut so I had to take out my drill press to add new holes. Additionally, the connecting piece for the lift was not included. So I modeled a new one in Autodesk Fusion 360 and printed it on a Taz 6. I think that missing laser cut pieces is okay if the user has access to the tools to compensate. However, a lot of schools or less tech savvy people do not have access to these tools. This can totally ruin their experience with this kit. In terms of missing the connector for the lift, this completely inhibits the robot from doing its intended goal of picking up blocks. I recommend better quality assurance in the future for the included pieces. Perhaps sending the pieces in laser cut sheets would prevent the loss of parts.
Figure 6: The incorrectly laser cut rover arms
Figure 7: The corrected rover arms
Figure 8: The completed mobile rover
I noticed that other reviewers had problems in terms of downloading MATLAB. I did not cover nor experience those problems as I already had MATLAB and Simulink downloaded on to my machine. The attentive viewer can use the code for MATLAB and Simulink in Figure 2 if they would like the license since I did not use it.
Some final thoughts:
I think this is overall a brilliant kit that serves as a good beginning for the budding engineer. The real strengths of this kit are its attention to engineering concepts and their application. The learning is not limited to the box that arrives at your doorstep. My main criticism is the missing parts. This can be detrimental to the experience of the user and may limit how far they can complete the projects. I look forward to building upon the projects in the future. A final thanks to Arduino, MathWorks, and Element14 for the lovely experience.