Crappy Robots And Even Crappier Electronics Kits

Robots and DIY electronics kits have a long history together. There probably isn’t anyone under the age of forty that hasn’t had some experience with kit-based robots like wall-hugging mouse robots, a weird walking robot on stilts, or something else from the 1987 American Science and Surplus catalog. DIY robot kits are still big business, and walking through the sales booths of any big Maker Faire will show the same ideas reinvented again and again.

[demux] got his hands on what is possibly the worst DIY electronics kit in existence. It’s so incredibly bad that it ends up being extremely educational; pick up one of these ‘introduction to electronics’ kits, and you’ll end up learning advanced concepts like PCB rework, reverse engineering, and Mandarin.

The kit in question comes from Banggood and bills itself as an NE555 Educational Training Part. “The robot is the result of scientific and technological progress of the new development of educational robot kit,” the product details say, and, “it has circuit streamlined, practical, strong learning and still have strong interest and so on, are part of an entertainment teaching in music teaching.” More effort went into this translation than the kit itself.

In the spirit of all YouTube channels, the first video is the unboxing. Inside this package is a plastic robot. Add three AA batteries, flick the switch, and the robot will walk forwards thanks to a COB module stuck inside its head. Simply by adding batteries, this is a complete, working robot. This leads us to ask what the kit actually is. Apparently, the kit is a single-sided board consisting of a 555 chip, a few transistors, caps, resistors, and an LED creating an H-bridge driver circuit for the robot’s motor. Yes, this electronics kit is effectively a replacement for the electronics. Completing the kit will allow no additional functionality, and is by any practical measure a complete waste of time.

BadPadThe kit is stupid to begin with, but how about the quality of the kit? Are we looking at professionally made circuit boards, properly labeled components, parts that actually fit in the holes, and traces that aren’t broken? No. the second video in this series reveals the kit has none of these desirable – or even necessary – qualities. The copper pads oxidized too easily, traces were broken, parts weren’t labeled, and the whole thing is actually a mess.

After reverse engineering the circuit, picking up a little Chinese, fixing the broken traces, and assembling this kit, [demux] was left with a robot… that walked forward. Just like it did several hours before when he first put the batteries in. The performance was even worse than before, making this not only one of the worst DIY electronics kits, but also one of the most useless.

As far as reviews and teardowns go, this one is brutally honest. That something like this could be called a kit, and sold as something that would ‘teach electronics’ is laughable. Teaching electronics with a PCB, bag of components, and a soldering iron is weird. There’s no real pedagogical value and kits don’t really teach a 10-year-old to become an EE; they teach them to become a tech. Only with incredible documentation do you get to something resembling an education in electronics, and the single page of instructions for this kit is entirely in Chinese.

That said, if you’ve ever needed a kit to teach rework, failure analysis, and how much flux you really need when you’re soldering, this is the kit. It’s so bad it’s good, and so pointless that you’ll end up learning something – not to waste your time on impossibly cheap electronics.

35 thoughts on “Crappy Robots And Even Crappier Electronics Kits

  1. Lol.. I liked this article.. My parents eventually stopped buying me robot kits because all of the previous ones they got me ended up so poorly, barely working, if at all.

    Add to that the cost of late 80s and early 90s electronic kits, and it is easy to be super envious of today’s kids, though it is sad it comes significantly at the cost of neo lib\con globalist ambition.

    Modern robot kits are so much better for the same price, but also often for far less cost as well.

    1. Oh, no. Not a waste at all.
      It was worth watching every minute just to make the destruction at the end completely worth it. The only thing I would have done differently is that at the very end when the stupid thing was still making noise, I would have smashed it’s head in with my 3 lb. hammer. :)

      Well done. Nice job overcoming difficult circumstances, and then doing the right thing at the end. :D

  2. banggood = banged (hit) good = likely defective. This is definitely NOT false advertising on their part. I’m curious about the cap explosion … was the cap labeled backwards on the schematic?

  3. I so miss Heathkit and their kits that utterly blow away anything we can buy today.

    Sadly kits like they made are 100% impossible today. Companies are not interested in putting out a superior product, they only care about maximum profits.

      1. Not really alive per se. Not up on Heathkit’s timeline but it’s like Atari now. Atari pre-Tramiel is what everyone remembers. Atari post-Infogrames is what everyone see. A ghost of a shell of its former glory.

        Heathkit back when is what everyone remembers. The Heathkit now is just a ghost. The AM kit is a joke from what I hear. No soldering. All screw connections. Not to mention not a whole lot of interesting anything on the AM frequency for 90% of the U.S. for the young’uns. The cost is also a bit outrageous for what it is as a kit putting it out of reach for the very people that should be learning this stuff.

      2. Heathkit is dead… This new thing is basically an ebay store selling 3 kits only one of which is anything close to a finished product.

        http://kipkay.com/ on the other hand is pretty cool… I’ve ordered one kit for my cousins to assemble from them. The quality and documentation could be better though.

        1. Kipkay’s many Youtube videos show that the guy’s an idiot. He has no idea about many of the basics of science. Perhaps his kits are made by someone else, and they just trust him to print out the address labels. His videos are the worst of hype and basic misunderstanding. Wouldn’t be surprised if he had a perpetual motion machine as one of those kits.

      3. I always wanted a hero 2000, some of there trainers look to be useful also. I have a etw 3800 trainer I wish to build processor modules for this trainer, S o I want to start with a generic break out board then go from there…
        It’s amusing to see limited kits like this. but honestly i have seen much better kits more useful than that silly toy above, can only move forward? no turn, no stop? One of those line following kits(robot) would be more useful than this. At lest you learn something about feed back with line follower. this you only learn how to solder crappy boards…
        Yep missing the real heathkit …

        later

  4. Wait, it’s this “Hackaday” and not “Wreckaday” – where is the “Pull the crappy board and replace it with whatever cheap board is currently hip and reprogram it” glory??

    One of the fun of hacks has *always* been to take some cruddy toy or kit and amp it up – search HAD for examples from Furbys to Minions for examples.

    1. I think there is value in learning what is wrong with crappy kits (or whatever) like this. There are times when I would spend the money and/or the time to fix or improve worthwhile things. Then there products like this that no one should spend money on for any reason.

      As a starting foundation for a hack, this one isn’t worth the effort or the time.

  5. So there’s no Heathkit anymore, but in Australia we still have Jaycar and Altronics. I have an epic 2-channel 3-band active-crossover stereo system that runs on Altronics audio-amplifier kits.

    For the rest of the world, surely arduino, sparkfun, adafruit, tindie* and instructables have effectively replaced any need for most kits? You can buy practically-free open-source PCBs online, collect a few parts on eBay / mouser / whatevs and then be assembling! I would assert that being able to discuss a design in an online forum and ask dumb questions of its author is *far* more valuable than a shitty photocopy of a build instruction from a magazine.

    * see, I too can suck up to TPTB

  6. I suppose you have to admire the seller’s cheek. Chinese “ingenuity” is often more of an advance in bare-faced lying than in technology.

    I had several of the spring-based electronics kits as a kid, and one awful one, made in Israel, with a breadboard that you had to fit the clips into yourself, along with a variable cap and pot that you also had to assemble. I suppose it taught me what goes into one.

    But all of the kits have the same problem, they show you what links to make, give you a basic explanation of the very basic principles, but nothing you can actually learn from. You can dick about with resistor values in the oscillators that make up 50 of the projects, perhaps, but it still doesn’t teach you what’s actually going on.

    Sure they’re aimed at kids, but a good teacher can teach a smart student anything. The lack of good teachers in the world is the problem.

    Of course that’s not mentioning the price, if I’d have known, I’d have asked for a breadboard and a bunch of components for xmas instead, with a decent book. But kids don’t know that stuff.

    1. Was it this one?
      https://www.flickr.com/photos/spike55151/114312327
      That was my first electronics kit. Used little fingery you-assemble-it springs, which soon oxidized wherever your fingers touched them (which was everywhere). Variable capacitor came as a stack of stamped brass plates and mylar sheets; I also recall a wind-it-yourself multi-tap coil, a little plastic rod with a self-tapping grub screw inserted for tuning. The projects only sometimes worked, owing to either errors in the schematics or more likely the less-than-reliable spring clips. A little amazed I stuck with it after all that, but like I said – first kit, it was still new and exciting and I didn’t know any better. Thanks for the memory!

      1. It’s ringing a bell! I’m pretty sure that was actually the kit! It was definitely “Tree of Knowledge”, and it was DEFINITELY that crappy blue heap of crappy blue crap.

        Some features… “buttons” at the bottom there. They’re bits of stamped metal, and you screw a screw underneath as the second contact. An IC holder that’s just 2 rubber strips pressing against a slotted hole in the plastic. Every penny the fuckers could save, they did, and I suppose there’s a sort of ingenuity to all the ways they managed to save a few pennies by gypping the customer.

        I seem to recall now, that I actually got 2 kits, on 2 Xmasses, one being the advanced “microchip” version that came with a 741 to put in the middle. Yep, many of the experiments were ruled out because various bits of it didn’t work, because 10-year-olds just aren’t that great at hand-assembling basic components. I bet the year after they saved on resistors by giving you a lump of charcoal and expecting you to cut your own.

        Can’t blame my Mum, who I’m sure was suckered in, and I was too young to know what a proper breadboard actually was. Don’t think it was cheap, either. Well, very cheap, just expensive in price.

        Ta for the picture, it’s the first time I’ve remembered that thing in years. Obviously suppressing it to save myself from the extreme rage and disappointment. What a way to rip off little kids!

  7. Meh, the robotics lab here at Berkeley has put out whole robots that work *less* well than this, are *more* junky in their physical construction (seriously) and electronics, and yet have somehow had entire IEEE-published papers written about them.
    But the joke’s on me, I suppose … instead of scoffing, i should capitalize on it, and be putting out 10+ junkbot papers a year.

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