Legos. K’nex. Erector Sets. These brand-name toys have inspired millions of children and adults to build something with their own two hands, and can instill a “maker” mindset from a very early age. But with the exception of Lego Mindstorms, they’ve failed to keep up with the larger trend of merging hardware and software.
And even if you shell out the money for a Mindstorms kit, which costs upwards of US$350, much of the skills learned to program the custom robots don’t carry over into real-world application.
But Makeblock, a startup from Shenzhen, offers a cheaper, more practical approach. The company sells robotics kits for as little as US$120 and enterprise kits for up to US$500. Makeblock makes 200 different mechanical parts and growing, which can be programmed using either Arduino or Scratch – the latter is an MIT-developed drag-and-drop programming environment for kids to learn the fundamentals of coding.
CEO Jasen Wang says kids can easily make their own toy robots, while more serious hobbyists and even professionals can create robots to be used for more practical applications.
Once a robot is built, it can be controlled via mobile app, as seen in the demo video below.
The company received an angel investment last year, and expects to secure its series A round in the next few months.
Wang says the company sold RMB 3 million worth of kits last year, and projects that number will hit RMB 20 million by the end of this year. Most of those sales came through online channels, but Makeblock also found a friend in US-based electronics shop RadioShack.
The company also makes some parts for fellow Shenzhen-based personal robotics company, Hippo-ADK, which we covered earlier. The Hippo-ADK controller is not yet compatible with Makeblock, though.
Makeblock started selling the US market, but wants to look at the Chinese market next. Wang says there’s big opportunities in education, and aims to cooperate with schools around the country.