Driving a drone on the floor that takes off into the air at the press of a button is an exciting, back-to-basics way to introduce kids to technology through fun. Even you will feel like a kid again, while they won’t even realize they’re learning.
The engineering and physics concepts they come face-to-face with when flying even a simple drone will keep coming back up throughout their education, and that’s even more so with drones with wheels. Joining in with their play is an enjoyable way to engage them and learn together.
Screens are addictive and kids love them. Even we are addicted, but they are coming into children’s development earlier and earlier. A fun drone with wheels is a powerful weapon in the ‘get off that screen’ wars. You can even get them outdoors, getting fresh air and playing with friends like you used to do.
We’ve gathered the best drones with wheels that will make your child’s day and get them hooked on tech that will nourish their minds rather than distract them.
What are drones with wheels?
A drone with wheels is typically taken to mean an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that also has wheels that allow it to move while in contact with the ground. When you say ‘drone’ you’re probably imagining a UAV.
What are ground drones?
Ground drones are unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) that are designed to move across the ground without an onboard human presence. So any drone that drives on the floor is a ground drone. However, some people will use ‘drone with wheels’ to include ground drones too.
The difference between drones with wheels and ground drones?
The terms ‘ground drone’ and ‘drone with wheels’ are not well-defined. There are no official rules to say whether ‘ground drones’ include drones that can fly and also drive on the ground. Or that ‘ground drones’ are drones that operate on the ground only.
Different people use the terms differently, but for the sake of clarity, I prefer to reserve the term ‘ground drone’ for unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) that can only operate on the ground and use ‘drone with wheels’ for any drone that can fly as well as drive.
Drone With Wheels Buyer’s guide – Things to Consider
To have the best possible time with your drone with wheels, look for these things:
Good battery life
The average flight time of a small drone with wheels is 6 – 7 mins. The longer, the less recharging and swapping batteries.
Can the drone take repeated impact strains from hard landings?
Stunt or flips
These are advanced moves, but you can still have fun with them at the press of a button if you’re a beginner and your drone has this feature.
Indoor or outdoor use
Make sure your drone is appropriate for where you want to use it. Some are too fast for indoor use. Some won’t survive long outdoors.
Ease of use
Is it beginner friendly or advanced? Does it offer the possibility for progression as you get better, for example with multiple speed settings?
How far can the drone be and still respond to your signal? This is important for outdoor drones.
Return your drone to you with a single button click. This feature is especially helpful for beginners.
Make sure the terrain your drone can handle matches the terrain where you will use it. If you only have grass outdoors, it won’t help if the drone needs smooth ground.
Best Drones with Wheels
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Syma X9 – a great cheap flying car
- Comes with two rechargeable batteries, so you can extend playtime by keeping the spare charged
- No safety guard around the propellers
When you look at the Syma X9, you know you would be excited to get it when you were a kid. It’s a radio-controlled car that is also a quadcopter and switches between them on command. It looks like it comes straight out of an ‘80s kids cartoon.
It has two flight modes for when the pilot progresses in skill level and can handle more control, as well as one-button pre-programmed stunts like a 3D flip. The controls are a great learning guide to controlling an advanced drone: up/down, left/right, turn left/right, sideward left/right.
Land mode also has two speeds, one slower speed for saving battery and extending your session, the other for high-speed fun.
The controller comes with an LCD screen that shows you the flight mode, so you don’t have to guess what mode the drone is in.
Syma X9 has 7 minutes of flight time. It also has an off switch so if you stop midway through a session, you can turn the drone off and save battery without having to take the battery out or needing to recharge it.
The foam wheels can absorb some rough landings, but not too rough and too many will eventually break it. The wheels can also handle friendly outdoor terrain (smooth cement and asphalt, but not grass).
SY X25 – a better cheap flying car
- Like a Syma X9 that flies more smoothly
- Has good range for flying outdoors
- The controller takes 4 batteries
- No safety guard around the propellers
This drone is like a Syma X9 that flies more smoothly, is more responsive, and comes with a 2 MP camera so you can record your adventures on video and take photos. They look almost identical, so don’t get confused, but the SY X25 was the original.
The drone’s range is 197 – 328 ft (60-100 m) and you’ll get about 5-8 minutes of action from a full charge.
The controller takes 4 AA batteries, which can get expensive unless you get rechargeable ones, so add that to the cost.
You can choose an easy steering option known as ‘headless mode’, where left and right for the drone are relative to your left and right instead of the way the drone is facing. Simplifying the navigation makes it a great starter drone. It also has beginner and expert modes offering more speed, so there are good avenues for progression built-in.
You can get a version with a 2 MP camera, but with such short flight time, it’s not worth the extra weight or battery usage unless you will be taking many photos.
To top it off, it sports a one-key return to home function, which you’ll appreciate if you ever lose track of it.
MUKIKIM Sky Runner – safest drone with wheels for young children
- Propellers are hidden by the cage
- Up to 12 minutes of flight time
- A safer drone for younger children
- Can knock things over when a young pilot is learning to fly
The Sky Runner MukikiM is like a remote-controlled tumbleweed. It’s a quadcopter surrounded by a protective cage. The cage protects it from the rough handling of even young kids who can’t control it well.
The cage design makes it more appropriate for young children because the propellers are hidden behind a protective barrier. A child’s fingers can still get through the cage but what would be more likely on purpose than by accident.
The drone can use the cage to roll across the ground, crawl up the walls, drive across the ceilings, or it can fly like other quadcopters. It has good range at 100 ft. Its fluorescent design means you can’t lose it easily in the dark, but just in case, it has LED lights as well.
It excels in endurance with a 10 – 12 minute flight time, which is impressive for such a small drone.
Top Race TR-MQ3 – fastest charging drone with wheels
- Flight time and charge time are about the same
- Lots of fun to drive
- Wheels protect it when it crashes to the ground
- Struggles in even light wind outdoors
The TR-MQ3 is a tiny 2 lbs drone. It is smaller than 2 inches squared and can easily fit into even a child’s hand.
You can clip on wheels to the TR-MQ3 to drive around the floor, up the wall, or across the ceiling. The wheels break the fall of the drone if you crash to the ground and usually keep it upright so you can take off again without having to walk over and flip it with your hand.
It has two speeds but no headless mode. It also has a propeller guard you can attach instead of the wheels to protect the blades from crashing into walls and trees.
You can fly outdoors but it is so light even low wind speeds can cause it trouble.
The battery charges quickly, in about 9 minutes, which is ideal to extend your playtime. With two you can have uninterrupted flight if you’re indoors or have a portable power source outdoors.
Best Ground drones
Parrot Jumping Night MiniDrone – most fun ground drone
- Propellers are hidden by the cage
- 20 minutes of use per charge
- An innovative set of features
- You’ll need an available smartphone to use this drone
If you want something to play with, the Parrot Jumping Night MiniDrone is all the fun you’ll need. This drone doesn’t fly, it drives and it jumps, which is unusual enough for a drone. But it also both sees and speaks which altogether make this drone unique.
It can jump 2.5 feet (80 cm) in the air, making every table and chair in the house is a target. One of its standout features is the first-person view that you access through the Parrot’s official FreeFlight Jumping app by joining the Jumping Night MiniDrone’s own wifi network with your smartphone or tablet.
The Jumping Night MiniDrone then transmits to you what it sees as it’s driving around the house, garage, or street. You can also speak into the microphone on your phone or tablet and out of the speaker on the drone.
Wide-angle LEDs light its path in the dark and a 4 GB memory card saves sound effects that you record through the drone’s microphone for you to play afterward.
At 7.32 x 6.1 x 4.57 inches it won’t be able to fit underneath all your furniture or into every gap, which is just as well because this drone’s pranking potential is limited by imagination only.
The Jumping Night MiniDrone zips around quite quickly, at 5.3 mph. For comparison, the average walking speed is 3 – 4 mph. It comes with pre-programmed tricks. It can turn on a dime at 90°, 180°, and 360°.
Because it doesn’t fly its battery lasts longer. A single charge gives you 20 mins of play which is plenty.
DJI RoboMaster S1 – most educational ground drone
- Can be programmed
- Great for getting children interested in technology
- Better programming tutorials than DJI’s can be found online
- Much more expensive than others on this list
This is not only the best quality ground drone. It is programmable and one of the best educational robots on the market.
Every year DJI holds the Robomaster robotics competition where young people come together to pit their robots against one another. This ground drone was inspired by that competition.
DJI is the leading consumer drone manufacturer in the world by a long way and the RoboMaster S1’s build quality is as good as its mid-range drones. It is far more than a toy. This will be immediately obvious to you on touching it.
For one, it’s a lot more expensive than the other drones on this list. The RoboMaster S1 comes with a blaster that fires non-toxic gel beads. You can battle other Robomasters, each with 6 sensing pad targets to know when they’ve been hit.
You can select the color of the LED lights surrounding the sensing pads so you can tell your RoboMasters apart.
The gimbal on the blaster has a yaw/pitch rotation range of 540° × 65° so it can fire up and down, but for safety, the drone will not allow shooting at too high an angle.
Its Mecanum wheels allow it to drive sideways in addition to forward, backward, left, and right.
The RoboMaster S1 can be coded in Scratch, a popular visual programming language designed by MIT (one of the world’s leading universities) for primary and secondary school children and used around the world. But you can also progress to Python, one of the most learner-friendly and in-demand programming languages in companies worldwide, also popular among scientists.
Whether you know how to code already or not, this can be a fun hands-on learning project to do with children. They’ll need your help to assemble it to start with, which is a fun learning activity in itself.
DJI offers programming learning material but there is much better free material online. Learning to code by finding answers through Google is a large part of being a computer programmer in general, whether you’re new to programming or an experienced developer.