Makeblock: a Platform for Robotics

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While we were in Shenzhen we visited Makeblock. They went through HAXLR8R last year and ran a very successful Kickstarter to fund their robot-making kits. They’ve taken the classic Erector Set concept and cranked up the quality and capability. The anodized aluminum frame pieces and heavy rubber treads have a feeling of permanence that plastic toys just can’t match. The electronics are built around an Arduino shield with easy connectors to a wide range of components. The kit is even LEGO compatible, with the hole spacing carefully chosen to match. All this adds up to a beautiful, top-quality, full-featured (and expensive) kit.

When the taxi dropped us off at their address we assumed we were completely lost, in a largely residential and utterly unfamiliar neighborhood of the city. But after a lot of hand waving some helpful locals showed us the way to their office. Eight people were tucked into a tiny apartment in a residential tower. They moved in a few months ago when there were only three on the team, and they’ll be moving out soon to a bigger space. This is the Shenzhen equivalent of starting in your friend’s garage, and Makeblock is growing quickly.

Talking with founder Jasen Wang about why they chose HAXLR8R he explained that he wanted to build this product for the international market. China is full of inventors and builders, but the Maker community Makeblock is targeting is located overseas. HAXLR8R gave them both the seed money and exposure they needed to connect to that audience. Jasen and his team are part of the new movement to create innovative products from scratch in China, not just manufacture other people’s designs.

The price of the full size kit is intimidating for a toy (around $600), though smaller and cheaper kits are also available. But the real market may be with robotics enthusiasts looking for an affordable and extensible platform for their experiments. In the context of a complex robot, spending a few hundred bucks for a platform as robust as Makeblock is a no-brainer.  I can’t emphasize enough that the quality of the parts is outstanding — thick treads and solid metal connectors. Robots you might build with Makeblock look and feel like they would be comfortable roaming around one’s backyard.

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