QUICK VERDICT of DJI RoboMaster S1
DJI RoboMaster S1 is one of the most premium & a fun robot that’s a blast to use as a remote-controlled vehicle. It is also terrific as an educational tool for learning a programming language. With DJI’s robot, you can teach a robot new tricks, how to respond to different visual clues and even get it to play a tune.
DJI RoboMaster S1 Introduction:
Robots are really fun toys. They can also be wonderful learning tools for children who are interested in studying STEM. DJI is renowned for its drones, so its launch of a land-based programmable drone for kids might come into a surprise. The distinct engineering and programming that make DJI such a big shape in the quadcopter market can be also seen in this $549 (Click here to buy) robot, with its fabulous quick design, excellent camera, and impressive automatic tracking.
Operated with a smartphone, PC or controller connected via Wi-Fi, the RoboMaster S1 shows premium features including 36 sensors, a 1080p resolution camera with object recognition and blaster for firing infrared beams or gel beads.
DJI RoboMaster S1: Built Like a Tiny Tank (by You)
- Build-it-yourself out of the box
- 107 parts + 101 screws
- Powered by custom processor
It comes in 23 pieces, with a screwdriver to assemble and 101 screws (6 different types). The comprised print-out instructions clearly label each individual part and the tools. However, most steps don’t have words, there are only pictures. Although, there is a 12-minute online video with description. The robot isn’t recommended for children below 14 years without adult custody, and with the complexity of its design, young builders will probably need support.
Once combined, RoboMaster S1 is a solid machine with more weight (Approx. 3.3 kg) and ruggedness than similar, less costly robots. It’s a sight to look with tough plastic and humongous Mecanum wheels, the same style used for industrial containers and forklifts. The wheels retain 12 rollers each, allow to move in all four directions. It employs an M3508I brushless motor and ESC with linear hall effect sensors and algorithms for better control.
For real-time hit point tracking on the supportable app, sensors cover the robot’s plastic armor and detect when it’s struck by another RoboMaster S1.
There’s a good burst of color too. The orange-accented blaster, wheels, and cables are sufficient to make me feel green. But it’s the blaster’s ability to shoot gel beads or flashing lights (infrared beams) that really made us realize like an infant with a new battling toy.
There are the 21 LED lights (primarily in six areas) that can make one of 11 colors via the supportable app for iOS, Android or Windows. That’s in addition to the gimbal and chassis LED indicators that flash different colors for different status updates.
The gimbal at top retains the “Intelligent Controller,” where the CPU stays, with the blaster and camera. It moves along two axes at 540 degrees per second with yaw (pan, left to right around the vertical axis) of 540 degrees and pitch (tilt up and down) of -20 to 35 degrees. We can switch its gyroscope on or off and control its sensitivity in the app.
Pillaring the Intelligent Controller are two antennas, which click while bending accordion-style. They go all the way backward, but optimal reception happens at 90 degrees. There’s also a switch for toggling between connecting to a smartphone or Wi-Fi Router (required for multiplayer) and some unconquered ports: USB Type-C, Micro USB, CAN bus and microSD card reader.
The motion controller is located at the base under a transparent cover and gives feedback all chassis movement with an omnidirectional wheel motion control algorithm and management systems for the chassis, motor, and power. A small LED light is blue or yellow, green, red or white if there are motion-related problems.
The motion controller’s top row retains CAN and M bus ports for connecting the armor modules, power, motor, and gimbal. There are also six PWM ports for engaging programmable third-party add-ons, like LEDs, accelerometers, another camera, servers, and drivers. Surrounding those are an SBus port and UART port. We can already realize the RoboMaster S1 is designed to enable high-level customization and programming.
The RoboMaster S1 looks tough, but it isn’t waterproof. But works fine on hard outdoor surfaces like concrete. Although it is not recommended to run in a dirty or muddy area.
And if speech is enabled, the RoboMaster S1 will talk infrequently, usually when setting up a router, game or calibrating, in a serious manly voice.
The Wheels Steal the Marvelous Look
Once built, the RoboMaster S1 looks like a programmable battling robot. It has four crazy looking wheels, with “tyres” formed of 12 small, miniature rollers set at an angle. These aren’t only for looks, these are the key part of the way the RoboMaster S1 moves: it’s omnidirectional. That means it’s not just forwards, backward and turning to change direction, it can actually move sideways, or diagonally, or any which way you desire.
With overvoltage, temperature and short-circuit protection, the wheels are constructed for the long pull. It’s not silent when moving, but the noise it makes, like playing cards shuffling in a machine, is pleasant compared to the buzzing mechanical sounds of many remote control cars.
Controlling the DJI RoboMaster S1
We can see everything the DJI’s RoboMaster S1 sees on your smartphone or PC. The image quality is pretty compatible, although washed out, displaying at 720p resolution at 30 fps.
There are some different ways to control RoboMaster S1. The easiest way is to use your smartphone, which offers reliable control.
You can also connect to the DJI bot with a Windows PC (via keyboard and wired/wireless mouse or touchpad) or the gamepad (sold separately). You have to connect a smartphone or mouse to the gamepad to use it.
DJI RoboMaster S1: RoboMaster Gamepad
Starting in July, you can get the gamepad by buying DJI’s “PlayMore Kit,” which also includes an extra battery, gel beads and gel bead container (price TBD). It’s the most fun way to control the RoboMaster, even though the controller’s a little chunky. To use it, attach your smartphone via the USB-A port. The clamp and rubber make for a snug, slide-free fit.
The downside is that while the joystick moves the RoboMaster S1 forward, backward, left and right, you still have to hit your smartphone’s touchscreen to rotate. For the extra money, we’d rather all controls be on the controller, and, frankly, to not need a smartphone too.
The “L” button on the upper left corner launches coding skills, there are L1 and L2 buttons for cooling down and firing the blaster, respectively, and a button around back for using power-ups acquired in-game modes via paper markers.
You can also connect a wired/wireless mouse (via USB Type-A dongle) to the gamepad. The experience is best with the gamepad propped up with its kickstand. But this is counterproductive because it takes away the mobility the gamepad enables, what makes it exciting in the first place, and also replaces the firing button on the gamepad with the mouse’s left-click.
The gamepad uses a 2600mAH battery that DJI says has a battery life of about 2 hours and charges in about the same amount of time. In my usage, the gamepad never died before the robot. It charges via an included micro USB cable, updates with its own firmware and has an LED light that changes based on the controller’s remaining battery life.
DJI RoboMaster S1 On Windows:
The RoboMaster S1’s orange-tipped blaster reminds me of Nerf guns, which automatically made want to load up and start attacking people — I mean, robots. But equipping the blaster with its gel beads isn’t as effortless as loading a Nerf gun. And somehow the end result is messier.
With the RoboMaster S1 you have two options, pegging foes with gel beads or pestering their senses with an infrared beam, a green light the blaster projects.
The beads would be the obvious choice if it weren’t for how difficult they are. Before usage, you’re required to soak them for 3-4 hours. They’ll expand until they’re the size and consistency of caviar. But after soaking mine for about four hours the firing range and power was pitiful. The robot spits out pieces of the balls with minimal force, and most of the time it shot nothing at all.
To prepare for my next battle, I soaked the beads for 6 hours, but they still weren’t giving me the firing power or consistency I wanted. After partially disassembling the robot to access the clear out the blaster’s queue, I finally got the firepower I needed.
The beads came out with sufficient force, sometimes as whole pieces, other times with fragments bursting out too but with stiff enough power to properly aim, strike and make my metal trash can sing.
You can have up to a 6-robot match and set your own time limit. Battling is great, with a hit point tracker and the ability to do damage by smashing into each other or attacking with your ammo of choice. Included paper markers can be erected to serve as power-ups. Using object recognition to scan, you can find health, make all robots within 3 meters suffer screen interference for 2.5 seconds, makes opponents spin uncontrollably for 1.5 seconds or get temporary super speed or invincibility. When I battled sister site Tom’s Guide’s RoboMaster S1, I didn’t encounter any glitches, just a confidence-crushing defeat.
Coding From Scratch
Of course, the Robomaster S1 is much more than a remote-controlled vehicle. It’s also an educational tool for learning how to code. Much like Lego Mindstorms and other robotics kits, the Robomaster S1 features an extensive programming suite with lessons and tutorials for learning the basics of programming. These features are accessible through the Robomaster app’s Lab section.
The S1 supports two separate programming languages, Python and Scratch. Scratch is a visual, tile-based programming language that uses blocks that snap together to form commands without typing code or worrying about syntax. The language itself was developed by MIT as a freely available educational tool for learning programming and is used in many schools. The Scratch implementation in the Robomaster app uses the same concepts and structure as “pure” Scratch, so the logical and structural skills learned with the S1 can apply in classes that use Scratch, and vice versa.
The app focuses mostly on Scratch because it’s accessible to users of all ages and doesn’t depend on strict text syntax to work. It offers nine individual lessons in creating increasingly complex programs for the S1, starting with simply spinning around and culminating in identifying and attacking specific targets. The lessons get impressively complicated, covering dozens of different tiles that determine how the robot moves and makes decisions. Learning the basic concepts of programming, it’s a very useful tool.
If you want to go deeper into coding, the S1 also supports Python. Python is a text-based, high-level programming language, so it’s much more powerful but requires significantly more skill and accuracy in syntax. Scratch is designed for children ages eight and up, while Python is more appropriate for high school programming students and higher (even going beyond education and into professional development).
My coding skills end at kludgy Arduino and Perl scripts, so programming the S1 in Python is a bit beyond my capabilities. I played with Scratch, however, and I was pleasantly surprised by how powerful this accessible language for children is. Scratch includes enough support for programming fundamentals like functions and operators to enable some very interesting decision-making based on input from the robot’s camera and impact sensors. If I had the S1 when I was a child, I’d probably know a whole lot more about coding now.
Camera and Object, Color and Facial Recognition
The RoboMaster S1 can capture its favorite moments in up to 2560 x 1440 resolution photos or 1080p video at 30 fps with a MicroSD card (up to 64GB, not included). It uses a 5MP camera with a CMOS 1/4-sensor, so don’t expect smartphone-level quality.
The camera employs anti-flickering technology, which you can set to 50 or 60 Hz in the app, which warns that indoor lighting frequency can “cause issues” (I didn’t encounter any).
The camera is also used for programs you code using artificial intelligence (AI), like the aforementioned clap, gesture and color recognition. Even without coding, the RoboMaster S1 uses object recognition for games that use paper markers. It executes this form of AI effortlessly. I was never robbed of a win because I couldn’t scan something properly.
Facial recognition allows for a cool feature, Follow Me, where the RoboMaster S1 can lock onto a person and follow them around (like a pet!). I struggled to get my robot to lock onto me, but it did lock onto others if they were in bright lighting. It had no trouble stalking its target, as long as it didn’t run into physical interference.
The RoboMaster S1’s battery has green lights that tell you its charge status and if something’s wrong. The battery takes 90 minutes to fully charge and has temperature, overcharge, overcurrent, over-discharge and short circuit protection, and sleep mode.
During my time with the robot, it lasted on average 1 hour and 30 minutes with regular usage and up to 2:30 with on and off play. DJI estimates the battery will survive for 35 minutes if you’re driving the robot non-stop.
Compatible with Android and iOS devices and Windows PCs, the RoboMaster app not only lets you control and play games with the RoboMaster S1 but also offers hardware support.
The app offers customization options like choosing a color for the LED lights and HP bar, setting speed, adding a gimbal angle readout to your app’s display and selecting how you control it (smartphone, keyboard/mouse, etc.).
You can also fine-tune your robot with Armor Addressing, Motor Addressing and Gimbal and Chassis Calibration. Through the app, you can run tests that take just a few minutes to make sure everything is in working order.
With a robot, this complex (and pricey) technical issue would be devastating. But the app helps you through such issues by highlighting problem areas and encourages calibration. It successfully alerted me when my RoboMaster S1 started having issues; however, I had already noticed the previous afternoon when it was driving backward.
If you do encounter any issues, the app’s surprisingly soothing background music may help you through.
Pricey, Powerful, and Educational
The DJI RoboMaster S1 doesn’t feel overpriced. It’s an incredibly well-designed, super-premium device that’s super fun to play with and can be programmed to do quite a bit more. That said, $549 (MSRP) is a huge amount of money to spend on what’s essentially a super-advanced remote-controlled car. For most people, we imagine the RoboMaster S1 is only worth this kind of investment if you will actually use the coding lessons, or need a seriously cool device to apply your existing or growing coding knowledge on. It’s a toy for a pre-teen genius to tinker with or a group of friends who can DIY some mods and battle each other.
Strictly as a plaything, it feels like the kind of extravagant toy a kid billionaire would drive around a mansion while pelting the hapless butler with gel beads. But for those of us who don’t have endless reserves of disposable income (or help staff to torture), it’s a tough sell for what is admittedly an awesome toy.
You may read also: Mavic 2 Pro Specs & Review: The Best Drone