RC vehicles are as educational as they are fun. Children (and adults) learn everything from hand and eye coordination to the physics of driving. One way to learn about electronics and how motors and engines work is to build an RC vehicle from the ground up. Kits from Revell, Elenco, and LEGO Systems help teens learn about radio systems, motors, circuitry, robotics, and even soldering while building their own RC vehicle. These RC kits for teens vary in complexity but do have one thing in common -- a great learning experience that results in a real radio or remote controlled car, truck, tank, or wheeled robot.
VEXplorer Modular Robotic System Image Courtesy of eToys.com
For teens 14 and up, this kit (with over 300 parts including servos, gears, and 6-channel radio) provides an education in building a radio controlled vehicle as well as giving kids a great sense of accomplishment once the RC is complete. And with its "claw" and Spycam it's loads of fun too. It's more RC with Spy video than it is a proper robot, but customers still love it.
Hitec RoboNova-I Kit Image Courtesy of Red Rocket Hobby Shop
A little expensive for individuals (unless you are a serious robotics hobbyist) this is an educational project kit suitable for robotics classes. No soldering required, just a screwdriver. After assembling this 12 inch humanoid robot you can program him to walk, run, do flips, cartwheels, dance moves. He is also "ready to compete in any Robo One Class “J” competition." RoboNova has 16 servos, multiple battery options, uses RoboScript and RoboBasic software for programming, has an infrared controller, and can be modified with add-ons and extensions.
Turbo King RCC-7K R/C Car Image Courtesy of PriceGrabber
Older kids can get a taste for the real world of transmitters, receivers, and the gears, circuitry, and motors of RC racing by building the Elenco Turbo King RC Car Kit. Aimed at ages 10-16 years this kit comes with a full-color assembly and training manual, has a flashing top light, 7 remote functions. You may find this RC car kit listed by various vendors as Funology, Amerikit, or Turbo King in soldering and no-soldering versions.
Elenco Battling Titan Tanks Kit Image Courtesy of PriceGrabber
Instead of assembling an RC that just drives around after you're done, how about building one that you can then use to engage in combat? The Titan Tank Robot kit is a solderless kit for ages 10 and up. This set comes with 2 Titan Tanks and two transmitters so that once built you and your child or a couple of siblings can have an infrared tank fight where the tank that takes too many hits dies and has to be restarted.
LEGO Mindstorms NXT Image Courtesy of eToys.com
Here's a serious robot system for the seriously tech-savvy 10-15 year old. You build your own robot. The NXT has a 32-bit microprocessor, 3 interactive servo motors, sound sensors, visual sensor, touch sensor, light sensor, speakers, Bluetooth support, and programmable software for PC or Mac. For more sources, compare prices
on LEGO Mindstorms NXT. Requires 6 AA batteries (Buy Direct
LEGO Racers Outdoor Challenger Image Courtesy of PriceGrabber
For ages 9-16 years, kids turn the 104 pieces of this kit into an off-road racer with a top speed of 12-14 mph. It comes with batteries, charger, and controller. The Outdoor Challenger handles dirt, grass, and mud with its oversized green tires. The RC version of LEGO Racers are hard to come by in stores but can still be found online.
LEGO Racers X5-Igniter Image Courtesy of PriceGrabber
The 58 piece X5-Igniter is a LEGO building set for ages 8-14. It's not highly customizable and not super powerful but it does produce a real radio controlled vehicle that can do about 6.2 mph. The X5-Igniter has black and orange detailing and big orange tires. The RC version of LEGO Racers are hard to come by in stores but can still be found online.
Snap Rover Image Courtesy of eToys.com
Suitable for a wide range of kids from pre-teens to teenagers, the Snap Rover requires no soldering -- circuits all snap together (hence the name!). In addition to simple forward, reverse, and turning movements with the remote control, the Snap Rover has lights and sound effects. Build multiple projects with this kit.