MonsterBorg review: new Formula Pi robot kit tested and rated

By Russell Barnes. Posted

We see many robots here at MagPi Towers: some are highly educational, others are fun hackable toys; a few have industrial aspirations; but the MonsterBorg is in its own league. Our MonsterBorg review tests out this new £210- robot kit from PiBorg.

With its massive 105 mm wheels, sturdy 3 mm aluminium chassis, and four stonkingly powerful 300 rpm motors, it’s a beast.

This review was written by Lucy Hattersley and first appeared in The MagPi issue #63.

 The MonsterBorg being used outdoors

MonsterBorg review: serious fun with robotics

The MonsterBorg mocks educational robots, smirks at toy rovers and tears off around the off-road track. As you might have guessed, we had a lot of fun testing out the MonsterBorg.

See also: New PiBorg controller and robot on KickStarter

You can control it with a wireless gamepad, use a web interface (along with an optional Camera Module for a spy-cam), or you can program MonsterBorg to run autonomously.

At its heart is the equally extreme-sounding ThunderBorg motor controller. This is a powerful new 5 amp dual motor controller for the Raspberry Pi. It runs between 7 V and 35 V, and more boards can be plugged in to handle up to 200 motors if you want to go all ‘Jeremy Clarkson’ on your robots.

The MonsterBorg kit hooks a single ThunderBorg up to four 300 rpm Zhengke 37 mm motors (pre-soldered), one for each of the chunky wheels.

It needs ten AA batteries for three hours of runtime and you can run it around the garden, on the track, or around the park. All of this is held together on a 3 mm thick aluminium chassis that sits in the middle of the wide tyres (so it can keep rolling if flipped over).

 The MonsterBorg has a sturdy build quality

MonsterBorg review: build quality

The build quality of the MonsterBorg mightily impressed us. Every part fits together neatly and precisely, and the components are all high quality. It feels capable of taking a few hard knocks.

You need to bring your own Raspberry Pi to the party. It supports Pi 3, Pi 2, B+ or Pi Zero W devices, although we think it’s best to use a Pi 3 or Pi Zero W as they have built-in wireless networking (there’s not much space for dongles). You also need to add your own microSD card and an optional (but highly recommended) Pi Camera Module, which makes the web UI option possible... All of which does push the price up a bit if you don’t have plenty of spares.

 The ThunderBorg controller

Putting together the MonsterBorg took around an hour and, thanks to its chunky wheels, sturdy frame, and whopper motors, it’s a fun build.

We found the nest of wires the only real sticking point: it took us a while to get them all tucked inside the kit. It’s also nigh-on impossible to reach the USB sockets or microSD card once you’ve set up the robot.
So make sure you set up the Raspberry Pi for SSH or VNC before assembling the kit. It’s also a good idea to fix the Raspberry Pi IP address on your router so it doesn’t lose track of it.

PiBorg has created software installation instructions and a photo build guide. We found the whole build process simple and straightforward.

With the software installed, you can control MonsterBorg by joystick, via a web interface, or create a canned sequence.

Perhaps more interesting is the Self Drive mode where the MonsterBorg follows a single coloured track. This is the technique used in Formula Pi events, and the MonsterBorg is now the Formula Pi standard robot. The MonsterBorg kit is also being used by Rolls-Royce UK in the upcoming #RaceYourCode event.

 MonsterBorg robots being used at a Formula Pi event

This integration with Formula Pi shouldn’t be underestimated. Far too often when you build a robot, the question is ‘what to do with it?’. With MonsterBorg you have an answer: set it up for racing meets.
It lacks all the finesse and precision of another robot we love, the GoPiGo3, with its built-in encoders. Mind you: the MonsterBorg has got its 300 rpm motors and they put a wide smile on our face. So it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.

MonsterBorg is one of the few Raspberry Pi robots that encourages you to take it outside and play. This, along with the Pi Camera Module and web-based UI functionality, makes for a go-getting outdoor rover. An approach that we feel could be far more interesting to budding roboticists than the school lab environment that many other robots find themselves trapped in.

MonsterBorg is an utterly unpretentious robot that’s unrepentantly good fun. Don’t be fooled by its rough and ready approach: this is a well-engineered piece of kit with some clever software and a good team behind it.

MonsterBorg review: Last word

It's rough and tumble but it's fun to assemble, easy to get running and packs a lot of power. We loved the MonsterBorg and could happily spend all day playing with it. It's equally at home on the race track and in the park, and is the perfect blend of RC-style racing with robotic intelligence.


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