Few segments and families of products where we do not find the Xiaomi brand as the protagonist. One of the most interesting for those who are fond of programmable robots is the range of programmable robots, hand in hand with the MITU DIY family.
The Xiaomi Robot
Once the work desk was chosen for a few days, the Xiaomi robot test was ready to start. As in other analyzes, next to me I had a notebook where I was going to write down the comments, impressions and details that, in the drafting phase, I did not want to forget, as well as the camera to illustrate the review. After that kind of ritual, he touched the unpacking of Xiaomi’s robot, just landed at home after a long trip from China.
What’s in the MITU Robot box from Xiaomi?
Conveniently sealed with plastic, just open the box of the robot of Xiaomi we find the main parts of the kit perfectly arranged and giving us to understand that we are not before a toy assembling any piece.
The Xiaomi kit includes the parts necessary for mounting the robot in several plastic bags. In total there are almost 1000 pieces, most of them of a very small size. We also find the brick or brain for programming the robot, two motors and the power supply. Here we must indicate that the power adapter does not come with a plug, so we need an adapter accessory.
The charger of the brick is USB-C type and we have only worked with the one that comes standard, 1 A, and it takes just an hour to load the brick-brain of this MiTU DIY from Xiaomi. Actually all the connections with the brick between receiving elements or actuators is done through those USB-C ports that the Xiaomi team has. And we can use any of them to load the brick, something interesting to not complicate the assembly.
Since we will be able to control it with the smartphone and there are sensors that do not have a cable, the communication of the brick can also be done wirelessly by means of Bluetooth. In this case, the brick has the four inputs / outputs differentiated in two colors to know where to connect the actuators (axes with motors) and the sensors. In this kit none comes, but in theory we could include both an infrared (differentiate black or white and can for example make a sigil) and ultrasound (to measure distances).
Inside the box there are details to improve and give an idea of the price of the equipment: there are no boxes or compartments to organize the pieces, and from my experience, it is advisable to get one to avoid losing them and facilitate the assembly of the robot.
The Xiaomi MiTU DIY comes with an instruction manual for its construction (and a technical informative document only in Chinese) that is clearly of the same style and scheme as the LEGO ones. However, the execution is not as well resolved and despite details such as 1: 1 scale drawings of pieces that are difficult to know their correct length, some steps have a somewhat confusing assembly explanation either by order or more often, because of the strange perspective in which they present themselves and which makes you all the time spinning and trying to be clear about what this phase of the instructions refers to.
The recommended age that puts the manufacturer, from 10 years, I think quite successful. In our case we tried with two children (5 and 7 years old) used to LEGO constructions since childhood, but the only one who managed to advance and not without difficulty was the oldest.
When I took care of more complex phases I realized that the pieces are far from fitting with the ease of LEGO, whose kits clearly enjoy a different touch and a finer and more precise assembly. This difficulty in fitting some pieces made the disassembly of the designs really complicated or of some phase in which we had made an error. It is not in my opinion a kit to be using the pieces in different assemblies continuously but to keep one fixed and with it move to the programming phase.
Speaking of the great manufacturer of parts kits, the MiTU of Xiaomi are compatible with them, although Xiaomi does not admit it in their information. They can be exchanged although there are also many exclusives for certain parts of robots and MITU constructions. This compatibility is a point in favor of Xiaomi because, as we will see, with such closed designs, the creative possibilities outside of the designs marked by Xiaomi are not so many. Or at least it is not so intuitive or easy to achieve, much less without a community around which for now is very poor.
What is and is not the MITU robot from Xiaomi?
Regarding the kits, although for the part of programming could make us think of robots like Mindstorms, the reality is that they are products that are much more similar to Lego Technics, with more closed constructions and to remain in time. It was a bit disappointment when we were trying to find a design to ride.
Although the application gave us the opportunity to download the PDF of more designs, about 15 in total, the reality is that after a couple of steps (not at all it is possible to review at the beginning the list of specific pieces to be used and need, something that is very practical to organize the assembly sessions) we realize that there is no possibility to continue.
Finally we assumed, somewhat disappointed, that the Xiaomi set would not give us a game as an element of free construction but exclusively as “step by step” of a complex robot that we could then program. And not in all the MITU options that Xiaomi sells, so there is some confusion for the buyer in my opinion. In addition, of the possible sensors that would give packaging to the product, only the color is available. When the others arrive we can say that we will be facing something more than a robot for parts to ride.
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That said, with a price of less than 80 dollars, this robot from Xiaomi gives many joys. While simply with the hours of assembly of the main robot and the function of remote control in the mobile that gives us the app of Xiaomi, the smallest of house will be very satisfied, this robot of Xiaomi has some more surprise to give thanks to its most outstanding point: programming by blocks.
Robot programming application
Once fully assembled the main robot of this kit, which has considerable size of about 25 cm, played looking to go a little further thanks to the application and control functions that Xiaomi promises for your robot and that are made via Bluetooth with the help of our smartphone (the application for tablet is the same but “expanded”).
Once mounted, the sensors of the robot keep it in balance even with two wheels, and we just have to connect it via Bluetooth to the application and start to handle it
This step forward was not as simple as we thought. The first mission, download the application and start it, is not trivial in iOS. For starters there is no trace of it in the App Store, where it only appears with the name in Chinese, so you have to resort to the QR code of the box or manual. If our option is Android, it is easier to find under the name My Robot Builder Global.
The application is native in English, although you have to go through some other phase / screen in which only the Chinese language is available, so, unless you know it, it is a bit trial / error at some moments of the configuration.
Block programming is similar to scratch and so on, but the smartphone screen is not the best input method for programs that are more complete than 4 instructions
Once our user has been added and the application configured, the two most common modes of use are free movement and block programming. Of the control modes not based on block programming we have several: route tracking, voice control or free. In the case of voice control, the robot accepts simple commands such as forward, stop or rotate, but only in English for now.
In block programming options we find tutorials that should be done at the beginning, and then move on to free design, which we can of course save to use later. Although once you have programmed by blocks, the different languages are similar, there are always peculiarities that you should try before.
Among the blocks we have the most common in this type of programming languages: movement with precise control of the motors and their axes, input information of sensors (for now only color, sound, time or sensors of the robot such as gyroscopes), conditional blocks, loops, mathematical operations and creation of variables.
From these programming sessions we conclude that for now, this Xiaomi kit has limited programming possibilities due basically to the lack of extra sensors and more actuators that can connect to its brick.
Finally, of the programming blocks, quite complete, we only miss the possibility of creating our own as it happens in other programming languages by blocks. Here we regret that this Xiaomi robot is not compatible with other environments by blocks like Scratch, which would increase its possibilities of use exponentially. We will see if, in addition to the color sensor, Xiaomi is not slow in offering some more with which, always playing with a tighter budget, given free rein to the programming phase of the MITU DIY of Xiaomi.