RoadTest: Arduino Engineering Kit
Evaluation Type: Electromechanical
Did you receive all parts the manufacturer stated would be included in the package?: True
What other parts do you consider comparable to this product?: This kit is very unique and I have yet to find a comparable product.
What were the biggest problems encountered?: The main issues encountered were missing parts and difficulties with the simulink to Arduino MKR connection.
The Arduino Engineering kit is advertised to be a hands-on incorporation of Arduino technology in an educational setting. This kit consists of 3 projects and an online platform for users to learn various engineering concepts such as robotics, image processing, control systems and more. The projects included consist of:
With this kit, Arduino and Mathworks aims at targeting 3 kinds of users:
That being said, I'm currently an electrical engineering and computing technologies student in university. Therefore, this makes me a targeted user by the manufacturer and thus, my experience with the product could benefit in its enhancement. In short, I hope to inform you all of my experience, both good and bad, with this product. Before beginning the review, I would like to thank the teams at Arduino and Mathworks and the element14 community for giving me the chance to complete my first RoadTest with this product.
Figures 1-5: Arduino Engineering kit and contents
Figure 6: Missing white wheel hubs
Figure 7: Spare wheel hubs arrived
Figure 8: Crooked connector on motor shield
As pictured in figures 1-5, all the physical contents of the Arduino Engineering kit come in a reusable plastic bin with a plastic tray insert. This bin was very useful in keeping things neat and helped me prevent losing parts throughout my use of the kit.
Unfortunately, the white wheel hubs were missing from my kit. These wheels, pictured in figure 6, were necessary for 2 of the 3 projects that would be done with the kit. It took a month before the RoadTest team was able to supply me with spare wheel hubs.(figure 7)
Also, upon closer inspection of the boards themselves, I found a crooked 3-pin connector on the motor shield(figure 8). Fortunately, this was not an issue during my use of the kit. Although, this would have been an issue that could easily be fixed with access to a soldering iron.
Arduino Education Platform
Figure 9: Arduino Education platform home page
Figure 10: Snapshot of assembly instruction video
Figure 11: Snapshot of project explanations/instructions
The Arduino Engineering kit provides an easy to use interface for its kit. The 3D assembly instruction videos, pictured in figure 10, were very well made and helped with the assembly necessary for each project. The instructions/explanations pages(example at figure 11) also went into detail on the aspects of the provided code, simulink models and concepts being used in the projects. There is also plenty of visual aid used in these explanations, making this platform a good tool to teach the concepts being used.
It is important to note that this kit provides pre-written MATLAB code and pre-made Simulink models for each project that the user needs to modify or add onto in order to complete different tasks.
#1 - Drawing Robot
Figure 12-13: Assembled Drawing Robot
Figure 14: How I attached the hangers
Figure 15: Drawing robot with finished drawing
Figure 16-17: Red and black robot drawing(left) of captured image(right)
The drawing robot was my favourite project out of the 3. I found it to be a very neat way to apply concepts of geometry, physics and math into a fun project. Also, the explanations provided were clear and explained the provided code well. The robot did not perfectly recreate the images I sent it but this can be expected with the robot being unbalanced sometimes. Such a result of this can be seen in the figure 15. Ultimately, the aspect of this project I liked the most was the final challenge, where I used image processing tools in order to incorporate the second marker(red colour). You can see the results of that challenge in figure 16. Figure 17 is the image that was used to create the drawing in figure 16.
Unfortunately, there are some negative aspects that I experienced while going through this project. One being the drawing robot hangers falling off. As pictured in figure 14, the hangers required the use of tape to hold them onto the whiteboard. In addition to the negative aspects, I found that the screw heads on the bottom of the robot were scratching my whiteboard. These scratches can be seen in figure 16. In order to prevent further damage, I had to cover the screw heads with tape. Another issue I encountered was the need for a wired connection to the PC. This made it difficult to leave the robot drawing unsupervised as the cable often got caught up in the robot.
#2 - Mobile Rover
Figure 18-19: Part with missing holes
Figure 20: Mobile rover assembled and in the arena
Figure 21: View of the arena from my webcam
Figure 22: Frequent error with the Simulink/MKR connection
The mobile rover project was built around the two wheel drive robot pictured in figure 20. Upon construction of the rover, I noticed that one of the plastic pieces I had received was missing 2 holes(figures 18-19). Fortunately, I was able to fix this issue by drilling the missing holes myself.
Unfortunately though, the necessary calibration process at every use was a process that took a lot of my time, especially considering I had to calibrate more often as my webcam setup was not solid and often moved out of place. Another issue I encountered during this project was the errors with the Simulink/MKR connection. The error messages I would receive are pictured in figure 22. These error messages caused me to be stuck for many days debugging this issue. I initially restarted my PC and opened MATLAB as administrator which did not fix the issue. I then uninstalled and reinstalled the software needed(MATLAB, Arduino, MATLAB add-ons) but I kept receiving the same error messages. I then found a comment on a mathworks post that was able to help fix the errors I was getting. More specifically, Emanuel’s comment on this post: https://www.mathworks.com/matlabcentral/answers/407753-arduino-mkr1000-simulink-build-procedure-aborted-due-to-error. It seems that my errors were related to the add-on download sequence. This is an issue that the Mathworks/Arduino team should look into as it could have stalled my progress for even longer than it did.
Ultimately, I was able to get the rover moving and picking things up with the servo controlled forklift. This project became a great way to teach me concepts such as types of controllers(open/closed loop), state machines(Stateflow in Simulink) and image processing tools. In the future, I want to try rebuilding this robot and attempt to control it via smartphone like in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUGCIfsYLo4.
#3 - Self-Balancing motorcycle
Figure 23: Assembled Self-balancing motorcycle
Video 1: Motorcycle balancing in place
Video 2: Motorcycle balancing while moving
The self-balancing motorcycle was another great project. Throughout this project I was able to use the IMU sensor data and incorporate it into a control system to keep the motorcycle balanced, see video 1 for a video of my motorcycle balancing in place. I was also capable of making it balance while moving forward as seen in video 2. This project also leaves the user with an interesting challenge of making the motorcycle execute banked turns. Sadly though, the ping sensor at the front of the motorcycle(figure 23) isn't necessary for this project but I'm sure it could be added in an obstacle avoidance algorithm for this motorcycle.
All in all, this project went without a hitch and gave me an even better understanding of controller algorithms in Simulink.
Conclusion / Final Thoughts
I have listed my final pros and cons of the Arduino Engineering kit in the following table:
|Tons of fun while also learning about various engineering concepts|
Missing parts, in my case the 2 white wheel hubs
|Projects can be extended with the added challenges or by the users creativity||Plastic pieces missing holes|
|1-year MATLAB license included||Simulink/MKR connection issues|
|Boards, sensor, actuators and hardware included in the kit can be used for various other purposes/projects||Cost is high for a student to afford (Around $300)|
Table 1: Final pros and cons of the Arduino Engineering kit
As a student, the Arduino Engineering kit was a great tool for me to learn about various engineering concepts in a fun and engaging way. Although I had prior experience with Arduino and Matlab programming, I feel like beginners would also be able to enjoy this kit and pick up the programming skills necessary while using it. As for having this kit in a classroom of a university or even high school(senior) level, I believe it would definitely be an incredible learning tool for students. That being said, issues of missing parts and software errors like those I have experienced would need to be ironed out to limit setbacks for students.
Disregarding the missing parts and software issues, I think this is an excellent kit with great educational projects tailored for any student or maker who is interested in programming, robotics or engineering in general.
It causes me concern when products marketed towards education come up short in quality. It is frustrating for an instructor to discover kits purchased for students are missing parts, are not…
Has a vendor ever provided a response that indicates a product improvement as a result of RoadTest reviews?
I work for a large Test and Measurement company. One of our product teams has done several RoadTests…
While the other reviews for this road test have been great, yours is the first one that gave me a sense for the kit's scale. For whatever reason, I had not yet picked up that there were three different…
Nice road test report.
The quality control issues you highlighted will hopefully be taken into account by the manufacturer.
I know that I once identified similar issues on a TI board and they traced it all the way back to the factory for correction.
@sean conway - I am technically not part of the vendors team but I consider myself one because I worked on the MathWorks team that collaborated with Arduino to bring this kit to the real world. I will say Arduino and MathWorks definitely takes all user feedback very seriously and uses it to continually improve the quality of products.
Arduino is working on making improvements needed to improve quality of this kit. It is hard to comment on what improvements exactly comes out of which review/comment because some of them may or may not be actionable now but that does not mean it won't be acted upon at a later date.
I had mentioned before in these forums, the issue of missing parts/holes were part of the first batch of 1000 kits. We shared initial user feedback to Arduino and they used it to quickly improve the quality of the next batch. Arduino also offers replacement parts to those that come with a defect and you can reach out to them at email@example.com.
Let me know if there is anything that I can do to help make your experience with the product better.
Has a vendor ever provided a response that indicates a product improvement as a result of RoadTest reviews?
I work for a large Test and Measurement company. One of our product teams has done several RoadTests. The marketing team loves it because of the exposure (obviously) and the R&D team likes them because they see detailed feedback on their products. I have to stay somewhat vague. However, they released a recent software update with the mysterious "UI Enhancements" comments in the release notes. I know, from the internal discussions I have had, that those enhancements were a direct result of reading the RoadTest reviews.
Is that always going to be the case? No. Is that how all vendors will use the program? No.
But to answer your question, yes, I know for a fact at least one vendor has made improvements as a result of the reviews.
It causes me concern when products marketed towards education come up short in quality. It is frustrating for an instructor to discover kits purchased for students are missing parts, are not constructed correctly (i.e. missing holes) or the software is not production ready.These shortcomings only compound the frustration for students.
Can someone care to comment on what are the possible outcomes can come from these RoadTest feedback? I assume the information uncovered in RoadTests are provided to the vendors. Do vendors use the information to improve product quality? HAs a vendor ever provided a response that indicates a product improvement as a result of RoadTest reviews?
Nice roadtest review of the this fun and interesting kit.
I enjoyed reading your review - it gave me a good sense of what the "user experience" would be and, as you say, you are the target user type. Nicely written and presented. Well done!
Great write-up Julien - provides great critical feedback along with the stuff you enjoyed. I will be sure to pass along the feedback to the relevant teams at both Arduino and MathWorks.