DJI is a household name, known for building outstanding drones and recently a line of fantastic cameras. I’m a big fan of both their Osmo Mobile 3 and the DJI Osmo Pocket 2. Never a company to get too comfortable, DJI is pushing their innovation line forward again with the launch of the DJI RoboMaster S1.
The DJI RoboMaster S1 is the robot I dreamed of having as a kid. Unfortunately, all I had were some spare parts found around the neighbourhood, a Scholastic Book Fair copy of Battle Bots and an imagination. It didn’t do much of anything, especially not battle but I was proud of my DIY creation. No longer must kids suffer like I did. The RoboMaster S1 makes it accessible for kids and adults alike to build a kick-ass fully functioning robot with plenty of fun features.
The DJI RoboMaster S1 was born out of the Robomaster robot competitions in China. Due to its popularity, DJI has created a consumer model that heavies up on STEM-friendly play. Think of this as more than a robot, it’s a learning machine and a great way to bond with your children this holiday. Perhaps you have no kids in your life, that’s no problem, you are now legally the father of a robot. You build, program it and battle it, just like a real child!
With the slice of the knife on the top of the box you’re that much closer to having your own robot. Only after you assemble 23 pieces and 101 screws will your new robot be ready to stand on its own. Then you have to get to the programming. For the purpose of the review, the robot came pre-assembled so I missed out on the experience of building the robot myself, which is probably for the best. I currently have adult responsibilities tying me down and by having it pre-built I got to skip right to the fun stuff. The actual playing of the device.
A completed robot will have four wheels that can glide across the surfaces of your house as well as a swiveling turret. The turret can shoot booth infrared light or small gel pellets. I’m talking about super small pellets until you soak them in water for a couple of hours. Everything with this device takes patience and nothing will be instantaneous. This isn’t a GameBoy. Once the pellets soak to about the size of a grape you’ll be ready to go on a firing spree all the while making a mess of your house. I let my girlfriend fire away some pellets at me and can confirm they do not hurt but it is frowned down upon. Violence is never the option, unless it’s an opposing violent robot. Then fire at will.
And here lies the problem with this device. It’s expensive as it is, but to really maximize your fun with it you will need more than one unit. I don’t know anyone with something like this, nor do I know anyone who could justify it. Then again most of my friends are hip millennials and don’t have kids to teach STEM learning too.
The robot itself is incredibly sturdy and looks absolutely badass. This is a solid piece of equipment, a bit too solid. Be careful when starting out, driving down narrow hallways or around furniture as you might have some unhappy accidents. Most of the device is made out of plastic and I’m pretty confident breaking it would be quite the challenge. This thing was made for battle.
What I found most hard to get a grip on was that the device doesn’t technically turn, it moves sideways. That’s because he has Mecanum wheels, which are conventional wheels with a series of rollers attached at a 45 degree angle. The rollers will then rotate 45 degrees to the rotation of the wheel, pulling the vehicle sideways. I found it quite tricky to learn and smashed into a few things, mainly the walls on my first few attempts.
The robot runs via the Robomaster mobile app for both IOS and Android. Pairing is simple and once ready you can then control your robot with an on screen joystick. The app features three basic modes: Solo, Battle, and Lab. Lab is the most intriguing and allows you to create your programs if you are Python inclined. I mainly stuck with Solo and did donuts around my living room much to my cat’s horror.
If you want to spend time programming your robot, and if you’ve invested this much time and money you should, you can write a script in Scratch, which is very kid friendly (drag and drop) or in Python. There are training videos on the app to help you get started.
Included with the robot was the Roboaster S1 Gamepad. It can hold a device as big as an iPad and has a physical joystick for better precision. The gamepad was far better than just holding my phone but note it will cost you extra and was included for review purposes. This is an extra purchase that does make controlling the device much easier.
It wouldn’t be a DJI device without a camera and the robot has a 1080p video camera built in. It’s a cool feature, but the device is quite loud so recording usable video with audio on the device would be near impossible. You can plug an SD card right into the device if you want to store all your footage to show friends and families during the holidays if you’re inclined.
Overall this is a fun toy but a very expensive one. The device is targeted for kids 14+, younger kids would probably get a kick out of it, as it acts as a remote controlled car, but there’s far cheaper models on the market. This is for kids who want to learn how to program their own device. For that reason, there are plenty of play patterns here, while not a great device to learn Python it is for learning basic commands with Scratch.
Another big red flag here is, a lot of the robot is built for battling. Without a second device you don’t have much to do. Sure you can race around your house a few times, but that won’t stay fun for very long. It’s surprisingly limited considering how robust it is.
It’s hard to justify myself buying this as I know it would sit on the shelf collecting cobwebs despite how much fun I had with it. Perhaps if the robot became sentient and held me hostage at turret point I might actually use it more, but alas he’s not that smart, yet. For those with teenage kids who want to one day save the world and learn about the world of STEM, this is a worthy option. They’ll probably learn a lot more valuable skills here than they would say playing a new video game console, but also would they use it? That’s between you and your child.