In my last SunFounder post, I played with their Raspberry Pi 4 based PiCar X, so it’s only fair I take a look at Arduino compatible equivalent. This kit brings three takes on what you can do with the Arduino platform, a bunch of sensors and prototyping electronics. Tempted to play with IoT, build a smart car or just play with electronics? SunFounder has a kit (AmazonUS) for you to try.
This box looks very familiar. Not just the box itself, but the content as well. Ages ago, I got a similarly packed set of 37in1 sensors which got me started with electronics, sensors and the Arduino platform in general. That box came with no instructions or guides and I wish my first steps were more guided. Fortunately, the 3in1 Arduino kit from SunFounder comes with a manual, samples of code and ideas to get you started, teach you basics and apply that knowledge by making a robot that moves autonomously.
The box is filled to the brim with a very familiar set of sensors and electronic components for you to try on a breadboard. These are the most popular modules from most of the kits I have seen online. The complete list of components is here.
Thankfully, that’s not all. Included ATMEGA328P based Arduino compatible board and acrylic base for your 1st robot are here to take your breadboard knowledge and apply it in practice.
The online learning kit is split into 4 learning sections. I have to give it to SunFounder, they always care about the documentation, and with every product they release, there is enough information to support complete beginners and more advanced users.
If you are new to all this, Learning Projects will take you through the working principles of Arduino boards, creating breadboard circuits and interacting with various components. This section is detailed enough to cover not just component interaction but basic programming functions and principles.
Each paragraph introduces the concept and contains a sample code to try, schematics and illustrations. I appreciate them including all this, rather than leaving you with a sample of code for you to figure out. As a beginner, you won’t be disappointed.
The other sections in the documentation will have a bit less hand-holding but are still well explained. After getting familiar with these concepts, you can jump into Car Project or IoT section.
It’s the key project of the kit as it has the ability to utilise components from IoT as well as things you might have learned in the beginner’s section. Over the course of 10 lessons, you’ll learn how to make the car move, turn and use the sensors to sense the environment around it and avoid obstacles. Each lesson takes concepts learned from the previous one and builds on top of that.
If you are careful and follow online instructions, the smart car robot takes you approx 45min to assemble. It’s pretty straightforward (as long as you start building on the correct side of the acrylic base) and thanks to well-illustrated, online instructions – even younger makers could complete the task without asking for help.
The smart car isn’t as advanced and as polished as the PiCar-X. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as using a mini breadboard to create connections and then extending the wires to the Uno board directly translates the experience of building electronic circuits on your prototyping board into a viable robot.
Parts are solid enough to allow for small abuse with the only complaint being the wheels, which were not seating well on the axis. A problem which I solved with a drop of superglue.
Assembly steps for the robot will take you through several stages. When a section is completed, you can try a sample code and play with already installed sensors or continue through the instructions until you add all of the possible components. I like this approach, as it can keep things simple for less advanced makers.
Included ESP8266-01 may not be the most powerful microcontroller with WiFi, but it’s perfectly adequate to learn on. Anything skills acquired from this section are transferable to more advanced ESP-based boards like ESP32 or more polished M5Stack devices.
The section focuses on interaction with the Internet, sending data from sensors to databases and controlling the hardware from web interfaces. It’s a short and simplistic brief of how IoT works and it’s based on Blynk – a very popular platform for connected applications.
With ESP devices being relatively inexpensive, I’d include a board with more GPIO as the ESP8266-01 is limited in that regard. It would enable more advanced projects without raising the final price too much. In the SunFounder kit, the ESP8266 is used over the serial interface to provide WiFi access to Arduino compatible board. It’s good to know that the ESP8266 can be used as a microcontroller too and programmed independently.
The last section is about Scratch. It’s a visual programming language that aims at people who are just getting started and are interested in making games and interactive projects. While Scratch isn’t limited to games, libraries included, make it easy to turn programming blocks into functional game which uses hardware created by users as controllers.
It’s a very satisfying way to introduce programming and logic concepts to kids, as projects made in Scratch bring fun and interactivity that stimulates, rather than focusing on how components work. The kit utilises PictoBlox IDE which can be installed on your computer. The programming environment comes with libraries for hardware, so the entire interaction is kept to the visual interface.
SunFounder 3in1 kit includes a series of simple games to re-create using PictoBlox and modules from the kit. This way, created games have elements of hardware as well as programming. This a very rewarding way of interacting with software, especially if your offspring expresses an interest in making games.
Priced at $69.99, the SunFounder Arduino 3in1 kit (AmazonUS) brings enough to the table to keep someone busy for weeks to come. Even when you are done with the car, the components can be salvaged for different projects which is not always the case with more advanced kits. With Xmas around the corner, this could be an interesting gift for anyone interested in electronics and IoT. Let me know what you think about it in this Reddit thread.
🆓📈💵 – See the transparency note for details.