DJI, the world’s largest drone maker, has come down to Earth.
On June 11, the company most closely associated with quadcopters unveiled a toaster-size robotic tank called the RoboMaster S1. Made of plastic and metal, it has four wheels, a rectangular base, and a gun turret that can swivel and fire lasers or tiny plastic pellets. Unlike DJI’s flying drones, which do everything from taking pretty pictures to fertilizing fields, the RoboMaster is part teaching tool and part battle bot. The odd contraption ships as a kit that people must assemble, learning about robotics and software along the way.
“By doing the assembly process, you get to understand what each part is used for and what the principles are behind it,” says Shuo Yang, one of the lead engineers. “We want it to look like an interesting toy that then teaches basic programming and mechanical knowledge.” Once built, the RoboMaster S1 can be used to blast away at other S1s during some good, old-fashioned at-home family combat.
The tank can trace its origins to DJI’s annual RoboMasters competition, held at a sports stadium in Shenzhen. For about three weeks each year, college-age students from China, Japan, the U.S., and elsewhere gather by the hundreds to engage in an all-out robot war. Competitors must build lawnmower-size robots from scratch and then face off on an obstacle-packed course at the center of the arena. Some of the robots fire large plastic bullets at