Many observers have noted that the world of robotics in the mid-2010's strongly mirrors the world of computers in the mid-1980s. Like computers back in the day, a moderately skilled individual can put together a surprisingly advanced robot from scratch, using off-the-shelf parts and publicly available guides. In other words, now is the perfect time for any individual of any age to get started with robotics. Here are a few tools and beginner robot projects:
These archetypical building blocks claim millions of fans from all over the world—and with Mindstorms, enthusiasts can bring them to life. Mindstorms kits contain a variety of touch, pressure and light sensors, powered by a simple command box programming language. Notably, Mindstorms represents a genuine educational opportunity, as several versions of the kit are sold directly to schools making them a great starting place for a beginner robot enthusiast.
Once you've mastered the capabilities of Mindstorms, the next step is to try something a little less user-friendly. Arduino is exactly the right choice. As a microcomputing platform with plenty of input/output slots, it offers a wonderful open-source platform that sits at an intermediate difficulty level for hobbyists. Even better, it's an extremely well-understood device—there are already detailed guides for making low-cost beginner robots.
The Rasberry Pi is somewhat similar to the Arduino, but it has much more advanced capabilities. It's a fully realized single-board computer, with an integrated graphics card and CPU clock speeds up to 1.2 GHz. Like the Arduino, there are plenty of tutorials for beginner robots involving this system already. As this system has more capabilities than Arduino, the resulting robots will be more full-featured, but its complexity may be intimidating to newer makers.
Scratch Programming Language
Both Scratch and Lego Mindstorms are the genesis of the MIT media lab. Like Mindstorms, Scratch is also designed to let beginners of all ages easily learn technical literacy skills. Not only is Scratch easy to program with, there's a huge publicly available codebase with programs that people have already written, ready for you to re-use. Lastly, Scratch is compatible with Rasberry Pi, Arduino, and Lego Mindstorms, allowing you to bring new programming functionality to any of your robotics projects.
One of the best things about robotics right now is that because there are so few major manufacturers (for consumer robots, anyway), that most are now created as open source. The means that even if you don't think you have the technical skills to bolt and solder your own robot together, you can still take many commercial robots and program them to suit your whim.
The other great thing about robotics right now is that even if you feel intimidated by the task of programming or assembly, there are tens thousands of people out there in your shoes. Huge numbers of people are learning more about robotics every day, and as such there are a plethora of free resources available to interested learners. Check out some tutorials over at Make magazine, find interesting DIY projects at Instructables—for truly advanced learners, there's even an Ivy-League robotics course available for free on YouTube. There's an opportunity to learn for everyone at any age and any level of skill—so get out there and make some robots!