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DJI's new $500 RC robot features a camera, 31 sensors and a mini cannon

The DJI RoboMaster S1 is an advanced robot rover to help students to learn programming. And it shoots gel beads.

Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
Expertise Laptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and drones Credentials
  • More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
Joshua Goldman
4 min read
DJI RoboMaster S1
Joshua Goldman/CNET

The DJI RoboMaster S1 looks like an autonomous sentry ready to protect the smart home of the future, and maybe someday it will be. At the moment, the company says it's simply the most advanced robot for students on the market. Made to see, feel and hear the world around it, the S1 has 31 sensors to map its environment, which is more than what you'll find in one of the company's drones. Combined with its first-person view (FPV) camera, the rover can be programmed to do things like respond in different ways to claps or hand gestures or recognize and react to other S1 units among other things 

The S1 is also a big RC car with a cannon that shoots squishy little gel beads and is just a lot of fun to race and do battle with other S1s. First, though, you have to build it. 

46 pieces

DJI RoboMaster S1

The S1 needs to be assembled before you can race it. 

Joshua Goldman/CNET

Named for DJI's annual RoboMaster robotics competition, the S1 (short for Step 1) comes disassembled into 46 parts, which DJI says can typically be assembled in about 2 to 4 hours. Its modular design and six pulse width modulation (PWM) ports allow you to modify the S1 and connect additional third-party accessories like speakers or LEDs.

There are six 100-watt brushless servo motors for high speed and accuracy. The motors and Mecanum wheels allow the S1 to move in any direction, not unlike DJI's drones do in the air. The S1's FPV camera, infrared-beam and gel-bead blaster are on one of the company's motorized gimbals that are typically used for stabilizing cameras. That gives you a nice smooth view from the camera while you're trying to drive. 

DJI moves into robotics education with the RoboMaster S1

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Although the camera is for navigation and targeting, it can record full HD-resolution video and take photos. Six sets of target sensors lit with LEDs surround the body, which not only look cool but give you something to aim for when you're battling other S1s with either the IR beam or its gel-bead blaster. 

The beads start off as tiny pellets that you soak in water and then load into a cartridge for the blaster. If you're familiar with Orbeez, that's essentially what the beads are. The blaster fire rate and angle pitch are limited to avoid injury and DJI includes eye protection just to be safe. They eventually dehydrate again and can be vacuumed up for easy cleaning. 

Solo game modes allow you to practice your driving skills and take aim at targets. There are multiplayer options as well, so you can race your friends and family or battle them in a Free-for-All mode, which lets you shoot at other S1s. 

DJI RoboMaster S1

The S1's gamepad isn't included. 

Joshua Goldman/CNET

The RoboMaster S1 is controlled with a phone or tablet. An optional gamepad will be available that gives you a stick and buttons to drive and fire with, as well as a holder for your mobile device. You use your right thumb to control the blaster/camera. I found it uncomfortable to use and it should really have a second stick on the right. It's also sold separately. You can also control the S1 with a keyboard and mouse, which really gives it a gaming feel. 

Included are a set of 44 vision markers, such as the "1" you can see in the picture above. In race modes you can use a set to act as checkpoints or use them for IR target practice. In multiplayer battles, there's a Heart marker you can scan that virtually repairs your S1 if you get hit by an opponent. Similarly,  Mystery Bonus markers give you one of four boosts to use against your competition: Dizziness, Electromagnetic Interference, Extreme Speed and Invincibility. 

It's about learning, too

DJI RoboMaster S1

The S1 can be programmed with Scratch 3.0.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

In the S1's app is access to coding tools. Under its "Road to Mastery" options, you'll find project-based courses on programming languages. The S1 can be programmed with Scratch 3.0 or Python. Video tutorials and programming guides can be found under the app's RoboAcademy. 

DJI says you'll be able to program unique S1 functions, change how it moves, increase efficiency and even optimize the torque for its four wheels. You can also write your own programs to give the S1 custom skills. For example, you can have it evade an attack and return fire automatically. 

The S1 is just the start of DJI's push into the robotics education field and it has plans for courses, educational materials, events and hardware in the months and years to come, the company said.

The RoboMaster S1 is available in the US for $499 starting June 12. A "PlayMore Kit," which includes the dedicated controller, additional gel beads, one battery and a gel bead container, will be available for purchase at a later date at some price. The S1 will also be available in China and Japan at launch, but no other regions were announced.