#1 Cubit STEAM Kits
We might be a little biased when it comes to Cubit, but their kits are certainly a great alternative to Lego Mindstorms. Cubit Kits include real electronic hardware enclosed in casings. That way you can work with motors and sensors similar to what engineers would use in industry.
The kits allow you build everything from Earthquake Shake Tables to Robot Rovers. Cubit is comparable in price to Lego Mindstorms, but you won’t be limited to just robotics. We have teachers using kits to demonstrate the Butterfly Life Cycle, topics in Earth Science and the environment. Check out Cubit Kits here.
#2 Arduino Uno Kits (Sensors & Robot Cars)
Arduino is a very popular open-sourced electronic prototyping platform. Say that five times fast! I come from a Robotics Engineering background, and I can confidently say that learning Arduino has helped me many times in my career. For starters, students will learn how to program in C, which is a great precursor to professional languages such as C++ and Python.
I recommend the Elegoo Arduino Uno Kit (aff. link) for electronic prototypes and the Elegoo Smart Robot Car for mobile robots. I created a Robotics eCourse, that uses this robot car. Feel free to use these lessons in your classroom!
The hardware also ties over to what you’d use to create a real solution. Therefore, learning how to interface motors, sensors, and components using Arduino is a viable skill. If you’re looking for a great High School (or advanced Middle School) platform, Arduino is by far my favorite route to go. The possibilities are limitless, and the pricing is by far the most affordable! If you’re interested in Arduino Professional Training, I recommend enrolling in my Arduino Prototyping for Beginners course.
#3 Meet Edison RobotWe recommend the Meet Edison Robot to those who want to offer robotics but are on a smaller budget. You’ll be able to learn electronics and programming without the hassle of a construction kit. Meet Edison is very versatile. You can use it with a variety of programming languages including Scratch and Python.
The body of the robot is compatible with Lego bricks, so students can build contraptions and inventions over the top of the robot. There is a bit of a learning curve with the Meet Edison robots, but they’re an overall good pick if you’re looking for a kit that’s user friendly and affordable.
#4 VEX EDR
VEX is a very popular robotics platform. If you’re looking for a rugged robotics kit with aluminum parts, then the VEX EDR is the way to go. I’ve had students use this kit to build everything from robots to cookie sorters to battle bots.
It’s a very durable system and will last you from grades 6-12. VEX EDR does come with a heftier price tag, but this can be easily overcome if you use it for a variety of classes – engineering, computer science, STEM, and robotics club. With all the uses you’ll get out it, the return on investment (ROI) is certainly there.
If four classes use a $400 kit, then it’s actually a $100 kit per class…!
Read more about my Robot Budgeting Strategies, here.
#5 VEX iQ
If you’re looking for a kit that’s most similar to Lego Mindstorms, then you’ll want to look at VEX iQ. The VEX iQ kit (aff. link) has a robot brick and plastic fasteners that look identical to Lego Mindstorms. The biggest difference is the programming platform.
You can use VEX iQ (and EDR) with ROBOTC. This will allow students to learn C-programming as opposed to Lego’s proprietary drag & drop. I’ve had great success with VEX kits in the past, so if you’re looking to spend about $400-$500 per kit, definitely have a look at VEX’s catalog.
#6 Raspberry Pi Robot & Computer Kits
Raspberry Pi is a popular Linux Single-Board computer. It’s commonly used for embedded applications such as mobile robots. I think it’d be really cool for students to build mobile robots using the Raspberry Pi. Keep in mind, this is a more advanced project. So it’d be best for accelerated learners or those with prior robotics experience.
You could also have students build their own computers with Raspberry Pi. There’s a popular kit called, PiTop (aff. link).
Then, once students build their computer, they can use it to program Arduino, sensors, Python programs, wire a breadboard, etc. It’s a really cool way to take your computer science class to the next level by introducing hardware.
#7 Makeblock Robot & Airblock Drone Kits
Makeblock has a variety of robotics kits for STEM education. They’re a lot more affordable than Lego Mindstorm kits and they provide a very similar experience. Students will be able to build and program inventions using the components in this kit. The platform is Arduino-compatible, which makes it really nice for younger students. You can build everything from mobile robots, to robot arms, to water vehicles. It’s a great way to introduce a variety of STEM topics within a single kit.
If you’re planning to use Arduino in your High School, Makeblock kits could be a great precursor for Elementary and Middle School students. They also make a programmable drone kit, called Airblock. Airblock (aff. link) is compatible with iPads and Chromebooks. For the price of half a Lego Mindstorms kit, you could get both the robot rover and drone kits. Pretty awesome!
Many Alternatives to Lego Mindstorms
Lego Mindstorms is a very popular kit. Many schools use it because it’s easy to teach and widely recognized. However, if you’re looking for different ways to incorporate STEM or robotics in your school, you might be looking for alternatives.
While all of these kits are fundamentally similar, the ultimate decision will come down to budget, activities, and age group. If you’re looking for flexibility for a variety of STEM classes, I recommend the Makeblock or Cubit STEAM kits. If you have a bit more budget than the Lego Mindstorms ($600+), I would strongly recommend the VEX EDR kit. They’re the closest kit to real engineering. Lastly, if you want a scaleable kit, check out Arduino Sensor Kits and Robots.
What robotics and STEM kits have you used? Did we miss any? Leave a comment below.
And, as always, if you need help developing your STEM/robotics program, contact us for a professional consultation. We’re happy to help!