Xiaomi MITU Robot DIY, analysis: this is the programmable robot that wants to compete with LEGO
Few are the segments and product families where we no longer 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, led by the MITU DIY family.
In Xataka we have obtained one of the most complete (MiTU DIY for 79 euros on Gearbest) and we have tested it both in its purely toy block facet and in the possibilities that its programming software gives us.
Xiaomi's robot tested
Chosen the working table for a few days, the test of the Xiaomi robot was ready to start. As in other analyzes in Xataka, next to me I had a notebook where I was going to write down the comments, impressions and details that, in the writing phase, I did not want to forget, as well as the camera to illustrate the review. Following that kind of ritual, he touched the unpacking of Xiaomi's robot, just landed at home after a long journey from China.
The drawings on the front are not decorations. They are the models that we can assemble with that specific kit
What's in the Xiaomi MITU Robot box
Conveniently sealed with plastic, just opening the box of the Xiaomi robot we find the main parts of the kit perfectly arranged and giving us to understand that we are not facing any assembly toy of any pieces.
The Xiaomi kit includes the necessary parts for mounting the robot in various plastic bags. In total there are almost 1000 pieces, most of them very small. We also find the brick or brain for programming the robot, two motors and the power supply. Here it should be noted that the power adapter does not come with a Spanish or European plug, so we need an adapter accessory.
The nearly 1,000 pieces in this kit come neatly organized in bags, but there's nothing where we can put them to start building. Be very careful to lose them because they are "numbered"
The brick charger is USB-C type and it has only worked for us with the one that comes as standard, with 1 A, and it only takes an hour to charge the brick-brain of this Xiaomi MiTU DIY. In reality, all the connections with the brick between receiver or actuator elements are made through those USB-C ports that the Xiaomi team has. And we can use any of them to load the brick, something interesting so as not to complicate the assembly.
Since we are going to 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 through bluetooth. In the case at hand, the brick has the four inputs / outputs differentiated in two colors to know where to connect the actuators (axes with motors) and the sensors. None are included in this kit, but in theory we could include both an infrared one (differentiate black or white and be able to make a line follower, for example) or ultrasound (to measure distances).
Programmable brick and the two motors. They are the only items that are not common kit parts
Inside the box there are details to improve and that give an idea of the price of the equipment: there are no boxes or compartments to organize the pieces, and in 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 information document only in Chinese) that is clearly in the same style and outline as the LEGO ones. However, the execution is not as well resolved and despite details such as the 1: 1 scale drawings of parts of which it is 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 are presented and that makes you turn all the time and trying to be clear about what that phase of the instructions refers to.
There is no turning back. About 5 hours of entertainment await us
The recommended age set by the manufacturer, from 10 years, seems quite accurate to me. In our case we tried it with two children (5 and 7 years old) used to LEGO constructions since they were little, but the only one who managed to move forward and not without difficulty was the eldest.The assembly of the most complex design of this kit took me about 4 hours in total, better immediately. Due to the type of parts and their connection, they are designs designed to be assembled
When I took care of more complex phases, I realized that the pieces are far from fitting together with the ease that the LEGO, whose kits clearly have a different touch and a finer and more precise assembly. This difficulty in fitting some pieces made it really difficult to disassemble the designs or to a phase in which we had made a mistake. 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 go to the programming phase.
The assembly of the main robot is divided into several "phases" that contain some steps that are not very clear
Speaking of the great manufacturer of parts kits, Xiaomi MiTUs are compatible with them, despite the fact that Xiaomi does not admit it in its information. They can be exchanged although there are also many exclusive ones for specific parts of MITU robots and 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 as intuitive or easy to get, much less without a community around which is very poor at the moment.
What is and what is not the Xiaomi MITU robot
Regarding the kits, although from the programming side it could make us think of Mindstorms-type robots, the reality is that they are products that are much more similar to the Lego Technics, with more closed constructions and to remain in time. It was a bit of a disappointment when we were trying to find a design to ride.The MITU brick is ready to accept ultrasound, infrared or color sensors, but for now only the last one is available for use with these kits.
Although in the application we were given the opportunity to download the PDF of more designs, about 15 in total, the reality is that after a couple of steps (not all of them 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.
In many occasions you have to keep and rotate the pieces to place them in the proper perspective to clarify how the assembly is indicated in the instructions
Finally we assume, somewhat disappointed, that the Xiaomi set would not give us a game as a free construction element but exclusively as "step by step" of a complex robot that we could later 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 the product packaging, only the colored one (very cheap, yes, it is for less than 16 euros) is available. When the others arrive, we can affirm that we will be facing more than just a robot for pieces to assemble.
See complete gallery »MITU 1 Gallery (20 photos)
That said, with a price of less than 80 euros, this Xiaomi robot gives many joys. Although simply with the hours of assembly of the main robot and the remote control function on the mobile phone provided by the Xiaomi app, the little ones at home will be very satisfied, this Xiaomi robot has some more surprises for giving us thanks his highlight: block programming.
Robot programming application
Once the main robot of this kit, which has a considerable size of about 25 cm, was completely assembled, it was time to look to go a little further thanks to the application and control functions that Xiaomi promises for your robot and that are carried out via bluetooth with the help of our smartphone (the tablet application is the same but "expanded").
Once assembled, the robot's sensors keep it in balance even with two wheels, and we only have to connect it via Bluetooth to the application and start operating it
This step forward was not as easy as we thought. The first mission, downloading the application and launching it, is nothing trivial in iOS. To begin with, 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 the manual. If our option is Android, it is easier to find under the name My Robot Builder Global.
The application is natively 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 of a trial / error in some moments of the configuration . By the way, you need a Mi or Wechat account to use it.
Block programming is similar to Scratch and so on, but the smartphone screen is not the best input method for programs more complete than 4 instructions
Once our user is added and the application is 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 like go, stop or turn, but only in English for now.
The mode of predefined routes is not very precise, almost better the free control and try not to throw obstacles in a circuit that the smallest ride
In the block programming options we find tutorials that should be done at first, and then move on to free design, which we can of course save to use later. Although once you have programmed in blocks, the different languages are similar, there are always quirks 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 from sensors (for now only color, sound, time or sensors specific to the robot such as gyroscopes) , conditional blocks, loops, mathematical operations and creation of variables.
The free driving of a freely created robot is what you get the most out of right now after hours of "fun" assembling the kit
From these programming sessions we conclude that for now, this Xiaomi kit has somewhat limited programming possibilities, basically due to the lack of extra sensors and more actuators that can be connected to your brick.
Finally, of the fairly complete programming blocks, we only miss the possibility of creating our own, as it happens in other block programming languages. Here we regret that this Xiaomi robot is not compatible with other blocky environments such as Scratch, which would increase its possibilities of use exponentially. We will see if, in addition to the color sensor, Xiaomi does not take long to offer some more with which, always playing on a tighter budget, to unleash the programming phase of the Xiaomi MITU DIY.