Category: Product review

Product Review of the Robotis OLLO Explorer Kit

Learn, Work, and Play with OLLO Explorer Kit

Today we’re going to move in a little different direction in this blog. I will be sharing my thoughts on a neat robotics kit from a South Korean company called Robotis. The kit is called OLLO Explorer and I’d like to provide you some interesting facts about the kit. In the end you may decide to save some money and purchase the kit for your own enjoyment.

Introduction

Robotis is an innovative robotics company that does have their customers’ best interest at heart. It is refreshing from a parent’s point of view to have a firm like Robotis developing new educational robot kits and projects to teach young students about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

STEM

There is a very revealing infographic developed by the people at Astronaut Abby.com called STEM shortage. The infographic references a study completed by Georgetown University that says that 75 percent of students that have talent in science and math don’t pursue STEM majors in college. Reasons vary, but the bottom line is the perceived difficulty in earning a STEM degree turns students away. STEM occupations are very important to America’s future mainly due to economic growth and productivity. The U.S. is failing to produce enough STEM workers to successfully compete in the global economy. That is why it is important to engage children in hands-on, rewarding, learning experiences such as robotics programs early in life so they don’t grow weary of math or lose their curiosity in science.

Robotis

As mentioned previously, Robotis is a South Korean company that has developed an educational platform called OLLO that helps trigger the creativity that most young students have. In order to evaluate the kit, Robotis sent me their OLLO Explorer kit that has students build at least 12 individual robots that move, track lines, shoot ping pong balls, walk, and react to sensors built into the controller. Below I’ll include a table with the name, objective of the build, and the time to build each one.

First an aside: Robotis offers several OLLO kits. The first set of kits fall under the heading of OLLO Entertainment. The OLLO Figure kit allows a student to build 13 different kinds of figures. This kit does not have any geared motors or batteries. The OLLO Action kit is where a student can build eight different types of robots that use geared motors. The OLLO Bug kit permits a student to build four different bugs like a grasshopper or a ladybug that moves.

The next set of kits come under the umbrella called OLLO Education. There is the OLLO Starter kit for grades 1-5 and the OLLO Explorer kit and OLLO Inventor kit for grades 2-6. Beyond the OLLO kits, Robotis offers several BIOLOID kits. These are educational robot kits where a student can learn about the basics of robot joints and expand their knowledge to creative engineering and kinetics. Finally, Robotis has developed DARwin-OP (Dynamic Anthropomorphic Robot with Intelligence-Open Platform) for serious roboticists. DARwin-OP is a humanoid robot with sophisticated sensors, high payload capacity, and motion ability.

These kits demonstrate the power of Robotis and their engineers in providing a continuum of robotics kits for students. Byung Soo Kim, CEO of Robotis, said the OLLO kits have been authorized by more than 50 countries around the world so this is quickly becoming an educational platform like Lego Mindstorms NXT or VEX Robotics. Those kits are intended for middle school and high school students. In some cases even college students use them in their classes. Lastly, the Boy Scouts of America introduced a Robotics Merit Badge and OLLO has been selected along with Lego Mindstorms NXT, VEX Robotics and Parallax Boe-Bots as platforms Scouts can use to gain their Merit Badge.

OLLO is one of the best solutions for beginners that have no previous experience with robots. The OLLO Explorer kit helps students learn the basic concepts of robot control and programming with hands-on activities. Each student will learn about microcontrollers, servos, sensors, geared motors, and LED output devices to prepare for BIOLOID and later DARwin-OP.

OLLO Explorer Kit

Let’s get started discussing the OLLO Explorer kit. Below is the table I had previously mentioned that will give you an overview of the robots you can build, the objective of each, and the time to build.

Robot Name Objective to be learned Time to build
Elephant Detects edge of table and turn 1 hour 20 minutes
Windmill Spin windmill; use motor as DC generator for an LED 45 minutes
Avoider Avoids objects using built-in sensors 1 hour 30 minutes
Penguin robot or Senses coin when inserted, then moves forward Not built
Business card giver Detects hand in front, gives out card Not built
Seal Clap; microphone and program will repeat number or claps 30 minutes
Line tracer Uses IR transmitter and receivers to trace line 1 hour 25 minutes
Howitzer Sensor detects object, will fire ping pong ball (not included) 1 hour 45 minutes
Ladybug Utilizes sensor and creates walking robot 1 hour 10 minutes
Puppy Demonstrates inertia and rears up on back wheels 1 hour 5 minutes
Mouse Moves, when it hears sound, it will move faster 55 minutes
Grasshopper Detects line, changes direction; detects objects, will push 1 hour 45 minutes

 

There is a section of the manual where you can build your own “dream” robot, but you are not given instructions on how to build them only a picture. OLLO does provide programming similar to what the company provides for the Penguin or Business card giver robot on their Web site (more on the later).

Before you even start building your robots, you have to assemble the “rivets.” The rivets are key to ensure the parts stay together when the robot moves. It took me 1 hour and 20 minutes to assemble the 265 rivets made two components each. The rivets are safe for children and are small. OLLO provides a tool that is very useful especially if you have big fingers and the tool helps in assembling and disassembling the robots. I recommend becoming very familiar with this tool as you will use it on every robot.

Sometimes the illustrations are not perfectly clear. This can cause problems in later steps and can be a source of frustration for the student. There were a few situations when building the Puppy and Mouse where you should download the program to the controller before you start assembling the robot. If you don’t you will have to partially disassemble the robot in order to get to the connector on the controller.

Before and after you build each robot, OLLO has a section explaining some aspect about the robot you are going to build and then questions after the build that will help solidify what the student learned. Overall, these helped to reinforce main concepts.

The OLLO Explorer Workbook does not cover the programming, but at the end of the manual it points the reader to a support link where you will find a wealth of information not only on programming using RoboPlus Task, but information on downloading the programs. For instance, the controller (part number CM-100) comes pre-programmed with the all of the programs except for Puppy, Mouse, and Grasshopper. For these you have to use the download cable and the USB device (LN-101) attached to the PC or laptop and the controller connector. You have to open the file download window and ensure you have a port open. After you download the program to the controller, you have to initiate it. The way you get the program to operate is to press the power button a certain number of times. This gives the student musical feedback to know when to stop pressing the power button.

The RoboPlus system requires Windows XP SP2, Vista, or Windows 7 (32 or 64 bit). You’ll need 500MB of disk space as well. Unfortunately, MACs will not work with the software, which could be a challenge for a MAC-oriented family.

My favorite robots were the Ladybug, Puppy and Grasshopper (see pictures below). One of the best parts about OLLO is the ability to use various colors of rivets to enhance the visual effect of the robot. Also, the programs worked perfectly.

ladybug

Ladybug

ladybug on track

Ladybug following a track

puppy

Puppy

puppy inside track

Puppy inside the track – sensors keep the puppy inside the track

grasshopper

Grasshopper

 

All three of these robots were easily recognized by my youngest child and the people where I work were impressed with the variety of each robot. Even adults can have fun with these robots.

Having had experience with Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 along with VEX Robotics and now Robotis OLLO Explorer, I thought it would be helpful to include a comparison table of OLLO Explorer and Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 in case you are considering both kits. The ranking is from 1 (Low) to 10 (Superior). The ranking represents my own opinion.

 

Feature OLLO Explorer Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0
Price $149.00 ~$600.00
Ease of use 9 8
Manual (Workbook) 7 (Basic manual) 6
STEM qualities (Primarily engineering) 7 (Includes math & engineering) 9
Material (Innovative) 8 (It’s Lego) 10
Controller (Small footprint) 7 (Has LCD screen) 9
Sensors (Self-contained in controller) 7 (Individually made) 10
Total performance 45 52
Price/performance $149/45 = $3.3 $600/52 = $11.5
Number of parts 450 619
Target Market (Grades) 2-6 5-12

 

There are many redeeming qualities between both kits. Based on the pricing and ranking shown above the price/performance calculation shows OLLO Explorer winning (OLLO had the lowest price/performance calculation). However, it must be noted that Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0’s price is at least $450 more than the OLLO Explorer kit mainly because Lego brought out their EV3 kit (which, in effect, has replaced the NXT 2.0 kit) and the price of the NXT 2.0 has skyrocketed. If you use the EV3 kit price of $349 and assume the performance was at least equal to the NXT 2.0 kit, then the comparison shows the OLLO kit at a price/performance of $3.3 and the EV3 kit at $6.7, again the OLLO kit ends up being the strongest competitor.

Conclusion

OLLO Explorer is good for young, aspiring roboticists that are beginners. It provides the basics of robots including hands-on experience building various robots, understanding the computer algorithms, downloading the programs, important sensors (IR and sound), and a small, but powerful controller. In addition, the kit requires patience and organization in order to complete the robot projects. The website (http://support.robotis.com) is a great resource for Questions & Answers and to learn more about programming. Some of the benefits of this kit are:

  • It is hands-on
  • Helps to develop fine motor skills
  • Improves teamwork
  • Increases problem-solving skills

There are many choices available today that a parent could select to purchase a robot kit. I like OLLO because Robotis has developed a complete set of robot kits that will engage a student from the 2nd grade all the way through college. Not many companies can claim that.

 

Quote for the Day: “We become what we think about.” – Earl Nightingale

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