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Before we start, we would need a micro:bit for the both the Ring:bit car and the newer Ring:bit Car V2 to work. The micro:bit is a micro-controller designed by the BBC for use in computer education. You can get one here! Besides the micro:bit, we would also need a computer to code and load the code onto your micro:bit. There isn’t anything else we need to download. Just go to the MakeCode website and start coding on the editor! Armed with our Ring:bit Car, micro:bit and laptop, let’s get our hands dirty!

 

First Impressions

Pic 1: picture with everything

These are the two versions of the Ring:bit cars, the one on the left is version 1 while the one on the right is version 2. The packaging is quite small, and if you have version 1, you would know that it’s about the size of a palm. Both versions contain an instruction booklet, a Ring:bit breakout board, plastic wheels, a small screwdriver, acrylic chassis, servo motors and tiny rivets and screws. I do find it amazing that the box of version 2 is able to fit the same components as its version 1 counterpart, despite being smaller in size. Both versions include a screwdriver, which I greatly appreciate, else I would have to rummage around my house to look for that single screwdriver that has been collecting dust in some corner of my house.

Unlike version 1, the different components of version 2 are actually further packaged in smaller packages, which makes it easier to store and locate the components, especially smaller parts like the tiny rivets and screws. Packaging wise, I would say version 2 would have an edge over version 1, given that it is better packaged and contained in a plastic container that is more durable. If I had to pick on it, I guess it would be the amount of plastic used is not very environmentally friendly. If I had to choose based on my first impression, I would definitely go for version 2 because it is better packaged and seems more durable. I also recommend version 2 especially if it has to be shared among a group of people (kids!). 

 

Physical Assembly

For both versions, assembling is pretty straightforward, thanks to the simple and illustrated step-by-step instructions found in the booklets. The rest of the process was smooth sailing, until I realized that I needed 3 triple A batteries. I only took 2 of them (I have no idea why either) when I went back to the office, so I had to raid my house for the last triple A battery. Luckily, I found my scientific calculator which has been neglected for months in a corner of my cupboard which happened to contain a triple A battery.

 

Version 1 VS Version 2

However, I did struggle with the acrylic chassis (version 1) at first because I missed out the fine print that said “please get rid of the film pastes on the acrylic components”. I even thought the film was part of the design and was wondering why the design looked a bit weird. Afterwards, I spent some time trying to remove the film for some of the pieces, something that I didn’t have to do for version 2.



Besides not having to spend time removing the layer of ‘film’, I personally found the instructions in the instruction booklet for version 2 slightly clearer than version 1. Version 2 uses real life pictures as opposed to the graphics in version 1. As a result, I had to use a bit of imagination and assumptions when I was assembling version 1. I also found it easier to wrap the wires on version 2, and in a much neater way. The pins on the Ring:bit for version 2 seemed to be better positioned, and there is a gap between the back and base board (even though I’m not too sure if that’s the point of the gap), which allowed me to wrap the wires this way.


Version 2 has extra LEDs on what looks like rabbits’ ears, as well as an LED module which can be attached at the base.

 

V2 VS V1 wheels

I also noticed that the wheels for v2 are slightly bigger, with a layer of rubber. At first, I thought that they wouldn’t make much of a difference. However, the surface of my working table is extremely smooth, which made the difference noticeable. It was slightly harder for version 1’s car to move forward, while for version 2, the layer of rubber around the wheel provided enough friction for the car to move forward with ease.

 

Makecode Assembly

I started with the physical assembly first because I just went with the flow of the instruction booklet. However, nothing’s stopping you from doing the coding first. The Micro:bit uses a micro USB port to import the code. I’m fortunate enough to be using an android smartphone with a micro USB port, which saved me some time from having to raid my house for a cable. Just ensure that the cable you’re using supports data transfer, as some charging cables don’t. If you happen to be like me, then the original charging cable that came with your smartphone should work well. You’ll know your cable works if your micro:bit lights up when you connect it to your laptop. Your laptop should also add a MICROBIT drive into your file manager. Do remember to put batteries and turn on the switch on the Ring:bit car, or it wouldn’t work.


The micro:bit can be coded using Blocks, Javascript, as well as Python. Even if you’re not familiar with any of these languages, the instruction booklet has a section to teach you how to code your Ring:bit Car. The MakeCode editor is a web-based code editor, but it uses blocks to simplify the process. Instead of typing your code out, you can drag and drop the blocks of code. This definitely makes it easier for beginners and children to work on simple projects on their own and even hone their computational thinking skills, without having to worry about the syntax of the language.
The instructions for coding are quite easy to follow, so even those without prior programming experience can follow with ease. The instruction booklet also explains what each block means, which would be helpful if you’re a beginner. Nothing can go wrong if you can make sure that the code on your laptop screen looks exactly like the code printed on the instruction booklet. But where’s the fun if there’s no challenge? You can think of other projects that you want to work on and start coding away, or just explore what each of the blocks on MakeCode can do. You can also search for some other more advanced projects to get some inspiration on what you can possibly do with the Ring:bit Car.
The instruction booklets of both versions provide simple projects (which are largely similar) for users to work on. The projects that are in the booklet for v1 would work for v2, but the projects in v2 may not work for v1, as there are some components on v2 that are not present in v1.

 

Accessories of Ring:bit Car

Besides the projects in the instruction booklet, I also tried using the other Ring:bit car accessories, such as the Sonar:bit. However, do note that this is only compatible with version 2’s Ring:bit car.

The accessories box also had instructions for me to follow and I’m pleasantly surprised by how easy these extra components fit onto the Ring:bit car (version 2). The Sonar:bit is essentially an ultrasonic sensor which would allow the Ring:bit car to know how far it is from an obstacle ahead of it, and there’s an endless amount of things you could have done with this extra piece of metal. However, it’s a pity that these accessories seem to be compatible with only version 2, as it doesn’t seem like there’s a way for me to attach these accessories onto version 1 as easily as I did on version 2. Well, I could have attached an ultrasonic sensor onto version 1, but I would need to find a way to stabilise it and ensure that the wires don't hinder the movement of the car. And it’s going to look nasty.
Even though there’s a lot you could have done on the Ring:bit car without extra accessories, you would have missed out so much fun without these Sonar:bits, tracking modules, or light bars. With just a Sonar:bit, you can already make a mini obstacle course for your Ring:bit car. Just make sure that the accessories you purchase are compatible with the version of Ring:bit car you own.

 

Final thoughts

I have thoroughly enjoyed myself with these projects, and I wish I had gadgets like this for me to play with during my formative years. If I had the time (and space, there isn’t much space I could work with at home), I would definitely try my hand at working on more advanced projects. The Ring:bit Car is still a Ring:bit Car, version 1 or 2. They are fundamentally the same, use the same micro:bit and look similar. The differences or improvements I mentioned earlier seem minute if you look at them individually. However, these refinements put together greatly improved my experience. If I had to choose between version 1 and 2, I would definitely go for version 2.

 

This review was written by Ang Jia Hui, currently studying Computer Engineering at National University of Singapore. 

 

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