DJI’s latest drone doesn’t fly, but it could end up in tons of STEM classrooms worldwide anyway.
DJI this week announced its RoboMaster S1. It’s a drone, but it doesn’t fly. It’s a drone in the sense that it can operate autonomously (the term drone generally has been adopted by the flying robot community, but applies to any autonomous vehicle), but this drone operates on the ground.
The RoboMaster S1 is a $499 roving, ground-based robot designed for people (primarily younger audiences) to get an introduction to robotics.
The S1 is intended to be created by the user from start to finish; they assemble designated and custom hardware, they program it via Python or Scratch programming languages, and they can maneuver it (or even compete against others) around a room.
Though the drone is designed to be approachable to newcomers, it also offers more advanced features for older students or users already experienced in AI, engineering, and robotics. It’s equipped with brushless motors, a chassis that can move in all directions, a gimbal, and interactive modes for programming, play, and competition.
Using the RoboMaster S1 to learn to code
And it’s a great pick for STEM classrooms as it helps students learn about code. Users can either write Scratch 3.0 or Python code to program their rover across a range of functions. The RoboMaster app is integrated with a project-based course series called “Road to Mastery,” which teaches users programming. The software also includes video tutorials and programming guides to introduce robotics and coding.
Beyond just the coding, the S1 has impressive hardware. Here are just a few of the RoboMaster S1’s plethora of features:
31 sensors: The sensors enable the drone to map its surroundings
Intelligent body armor: The drone can “detect hits” thanks to six sensors on its body armor
A first-person view (FPV camera) and machine vision technology: Similar to what you’ll find in racing drones (and honestly, most drones on the market these days), this drone has an FPV camera that can send a stabilized live feed from the S1 to the RoboMaster app. The drone can identify not just other objects, but it can recognize and respond to sounds.
There are six intelligent recognition functions:
- Line Follow: Create an interactive course and map out a path through the RoboMaster app.
- Vision Marker Recognition: The S1 can recognize numbers, letters, and special characters.
- Follow Mode: The rover can identify and follow a person selected in the S1’s field of vision.
- Clap Recognition: A clap recognition module can be programmed to respond based upon clap quantity.
- Gesture Recognition: The S1 can be programmed to recognize physical hand gestures (this is a similar feature to what you’ll find in other DJI drones such as the DJI Spark).
- S1 Recognition: The S1 can be programmed to recognize and respond to other S1 units.
Mechanical gimbal: The gimbal includes a mechanical gimbal with an infrared and nontoxic gel bead Blaster, which could come into handy if using the S1 for competitions.
Modular design: The drone includes six Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) control ports, so people looking to customize their rover can take advantage of third-party hardware.
Four Mecanum wheels: You’ll commonly find this in other competitive robots. Each wheel has 12 rollers that allow omnidirectional movement and precision control while operating.
RoboMaster S1 proves DJI’s strategy is moving toward education
While the launch of the RoboMaster S1 marks DJI’s first “official” step into the robotics education field, education is hardly new territory for the Chinese drone manufacturer.
DJI for a few years now has hosted RoboMaster (yes, the same name was intentional on DJI’s part), which is a yearly robotics competition for aspiring young engineers. There’s more than $75,000 up for grabs for the winners in this year’s competition.
And DJI just last year worked closely with Ryze Technology to develop the Tello drone, which is a $99, kid-friendly drone that combines DJI flight technology and an Intel processor to create a budget camera drone that also can be used to teach newbies the basics of programming. That drone has been wildly popular in classrooms for its ease of use and budget price tag.
What’s interesting is that DJI chose a rover as its first foray into education, rather than a flying drone. But it also makes sense: rovers mean that there’s no Federal Aviation Administration regulations to follow (it could be a barrier for school teachers to have to get a Part 107 drone license to be able to teach). They could also be less of a liability for schools, as school administration may fear that a flying robot could cause for physical harm than a rover, should something go wrong.
But it’s proof that drones have another “drones for good” use case: getting kids interested in engineering, coding and robotics in a way that is applicable and (hopefully) fun.
Where to buy the RoboMaster S1
The RoboMaster S1 is available now through DJI’s store for $499, though DJI offers a variety of educational discounts and non-profit discounts which you may qualify for.
Later this year, DJI will begin offering a “PlayMore Kit” which includes a gamepad, additional gel beads, one battery, and a gel bead container.