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DJI RoboMaster S1 hands-on review: DJI’s battle robot is a blast to use

Price when reviewed : £499
inc VAT

The RoboMaster S1 is a genuinely fun – and educational – robot but it certainly isn’t cheap

Having had my first chance to finally use DJI’s educational, consumer robot RoboMaster S1, I can safely say it’s the most fun I’ve had outside a computer game this year (no jokes).

The RoboMaster S1 is an odd thing. Part educational robot, part mechanical battle drone, you can take two, or three or more of them and engage in a bout of real-world, robotic Call of Duty, firing water-based pellets at your friends in a frantic bid to win the battle.

And yet, if the parents ask, it’s an educational toy, along the lines of Sphero’s well-established ball-shaped robots, which has been designed to help kids learn how robotics work and apply coding skills to real-world situations. It’s a robot that, like a box of Lego, you have to assemble before you can use it and that you can program using Scratch or Python to do your bidding.

DJI RoboMaster S1 hands-on: What you need to know

The news is that the RoboMaster S1 is now available to buy in Europe and the UK for a price of £499, plus £155 extra for the Play More kit, which includes a number of extras, including batteries.

This thing is an incredibly clever, if expensive, piece of kit. Building on DJI’s experience with drones, it’s packed with sensors – 31 of the things, spread all around the chassis. Some of these are are used to detect when the robot has been shot. Others are used to sense motion, speed and direction.

It also comes with a 1080p FPV (first person view) camera mounted in a turret on top that swivels around 360 degrees. You can see through this via the accompanying smartphone or tablet app and – if you’re playing one of the RoboMaster’s battle games – use it to as a kind of freelook aiming facility, firing from the robot’s gun module, which is mounted just below. The gun can fire either water-based gel pellets or beams of light if you don’t want tiny pieces of plastic strewn all over the kitchen floor.

Aiming and firing isn’t the only use of the RoboMaster’s camera, however. It can also be employed to detect signs, recognise people and track other RoboMaster robots or lines on the floor. 

Perhaps the cleverest part of the whole robot, though, is the base, which houses the battery, the motor and the RoboMaster S1’s four wheels. These are no ordinary wheels, though – they’re “Mecanum” wheels, surrounded with rollers set at an angle, which allows the robot to move left and right in a strafing motion, just as you would while playing PUBG, Call of Duty or Fortnite. Obviously, it’s also possible to drive forwards, backwards and turn in the normal way as well.

In truth, although it is good fun, controlling the RoboMaster isn’t the easiest task and aiming in real-time through the FPV camera occasionally makes for a frustrating experience. There are a number of ways to control it, though, which means you’ll probably find something that suits you.

With connection to the robot achieved via your home Wi-Fi network you can control the RoboMaster via the touchscreen of your tablet or phone, or the supplied gamepad, which adds a left control stick that delivers backwards, forwards and sideways strafing control. You can also use a mouse/touchpad and keyboard if you want.

It isn’t all just fun and games, though. Out of the box, the RoboMaster comes in the form of 107 different parts that must be assembled before you can even get started, and 101 small screws ensures you’ll need to be a dab hand with a screwdriver, too. This is no snap together Lego kit.

And, just like the Sphero Sprk+, the DJI RoboMaster S1 has an educational bent, too. In the app’s Lab section, it’s possible to code behaviours to the robot via the drag and drop Scratch 3 interface or – for more advanced users – in Python. You’re not entirely left to your own devices here, either, with a series of courses to help you get to grips with the intricacies of how to interact with the robot.

The DJI RoboMaster S1: Early verdict

Given the price of the thing it’s unlikely you’ll get much opportunity to do battle with your friends, so the coding part is really important, lending what might otherwise be a rather overpriced toy a serious side. I can genuinely see this enthusing kids and getting them excited at the prospect of coding.

The crux of the thing, however, is that price. At £499 you have to have a lot of spare cash to splash to justify the purchase, no matter how educational or fun it is.

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