Hands on with the DJI RoboMaster S1, a robot that shoots laser beams and teaches your kids to code in Python
A new modular toy from DJI finds the sweet spot between educational and fun
A make-your-own robot that shoots laser beams is a toy fantasy come true for any child — or adult — with a geek streak inside. That's exactly what DJI is delivering, starting Wednesday June 12, for $499. Called the RoboMaster S1, the modular robot is a heavy-duty programmable toy that can be as customized and kitted out as someone's engineering and coding skills allow.
RoboMaster S1 can be programmed to follow gestures and also a lineGearBrain
Air to ground
This is a big shift for DJI — a toy designed for on-the-ground play as opposed to the drones the brand is known for making. Play is also exactly what RoboMaster S1 sparks, even with the programming chops inside. The toy resembles a off-roader with four omnidirectional Mecanum wheels, each one has 12 rollers, that can go up to 8 mph. Torque too is adjustable: we had no trouble getting the toy driving up a ramp from a standing still position.
In the box, players will find 46 parts — which DJI says should take about four hours to put together. (Trust us, kids are going to shave that time easily by half.) However, the toy is less designed for elementary school set, and more for middle and high schoolers, plus adults of course. Borrowing from other modular toys, like Jimu BuilderBot kits, the new RoboMaster S1 also has a bit of a hacker spirit inside.
That DIY mentality stems from DJI's inspiration for the toy, the RoboMaster competition which started in 2014, and now has more than 20,000 students, including some from the U.S., competing annually in Shenzhen, China to encourage students to get hands on with robotics. The first RoboMaster S1 Challenge will happen in August 2019, during this year's RoboMaster finals.
Each of the RoboMaster S1 robots has four omnidirectional Mecanum wheels, with 12 rollersDJI
Make it your own
There are six control ports, where third-party pieces can be attached, and the design of RoboMaster S1 — with edges and flat spaces — will encourage some people to attach cameras or other tech tools likely as well.
There's a lot of tech packed inside RoboMaster S1, which has 31 sensors — more than most of DJI's drones, the company said — speakers, microphone and a gimbal-stabilized camera that supports live first-person view (FPV) feed.
Operating the robot happens through the RoboMaster app, which can work on any iOS or Android device. There, you can see what the RoboMaster S1 sees, drive it, and program its movements. Coding happens through the typical way most educational toys approach programming: drag and drop where you add steps by just linking blocks of code together.
DJI takes this a step further, crucial in any good programming toy, by letting players see the block code in Python, which means children (and adults) can learn that language just by re-engineering the code they wrote.
You can have six RoboMaster S1s playing against togetherDJI
Lest anyone think this is a chewy toy designed for a science classroom (which, frankly it is) — RoboMaster S1 is meant for fun. Besides shooting laser beams, the robot is kitted with a gel bead blaster, these a small micro pellets that players will soak in water before loading on to the toy. The blaster will hold about 400 beads — more than enough for the 30-35 minutes the battery will last.
Press even gently and they break apart between two fingers — and there is a bitterant added to discourage young children and pets from eating them.
There's a limit to the angle pitch and the firing range — but the toy does come with safety goggles, and they're worth wearing. Players can fight with each other — up to six S1s can engage if they're connected to a router — and you score points by hitting each other with both the beads and a beam.
There are multiple modes for play including a racing feature and Dodge mode, where players try to eliminate each other, and can gain extra abilities — like rendering an opponent dizzy — and earn health points if they're frozen so they can reboot.
The toy is not waterproof — is designed for indoor use — and while you'll be able to steer and run the RoboMaster S1 from a smartphone for play, there will be a controller, which should connect to a router, for competition use.
Each RoboMaster S1 comes unassembled, with 46 partsGearBrain
The S1 has six features that help it engage with other robots — and even people. One of Line Follow, where the S1 will move along a line programmed in the app. The robot has also recognize 44 different markers including letters, characters and numbers, and can be set to follow a person within its field of view. S1 can also be programmed to react based on a set number of claps, and also to a gesture that's made — and it can recognize, and be programmed to react, to other S1 robots it sees.
There's a huge emphasis today in bringing in science, technology, engineering and math tools — so-called STEM skills — into tech toys today. This arena has bloomed with robots that can roll, walk, fly and pick up, all programmed through apps that aim at seeding these skills into young children so they grow up knowing how to work with, and create, the technology of the future.
DJI's drones do allow pilots to customize them through programming, mostly though this for advanced users. Its Tello drone, however, which launched in 2018, is directly aimed at children, and can be programmed through Scratch.
You can use Scratch and Python to program the S1 in the RoboMaster AppGearBrain
The S1 takes this educational piece even one step further, integrating a more advanced language, Python, into the plan. There are also courses through the Road to Mastery series in the app that can teach people how to use programming languages, plus video tutorials and programming guides in the RoboAcademy. Add this coding support to the S1's modular design, and the options for customization are fairly endless.
Where to buy
RoboMaster S1 will launch first in the U.S., China and Japan, although DJI will be evaluating other locations as they start selling the robot. It will be on sale on DJI's web site and in its flagship stores. Educators interested in buying kits for classrooms can contact DJI for educational pricing.