Scaling up robot swarms to collectives of hundreds or even thousands without sacrificing sensing, processing, and locomotion capabilities is a challenging problem. Low-cost robots are potentially scalable, but the majority of existing systems have limited capabilities, and these limitations substantially constrain the type of experiments that could be performed by robotics researchers. Instead of adding functionality by adding more components and therefore increasing the cost, we demonstrate how low-cost hardware can be used beyond its standard functionality. We systematically review 15 swarm robotic systems and analyse their sensing capabilities by applying a general sensor model from the sensing and measurement community. This work is based on the HoverBot system. A HoverBot is a levitating circuit board that manoeuvres by pulling itself towards magnetic anchors that are embedded into the robot arena. We show that HoverBot’s magnetic field readouts from its Hall-effect sensor can be associated to successful movement, robot rotation and collision measurands. We build a time series classifier based on these magnetic field readouts. We modify and apply signal processing techniques to enable the online classification of the time-variant magnetic field measurements on HoverBot’s low-cost microcontroller. We enabled HoverBot with successful movement, rotation, and collision sensing capabilities by utilising its single Hall-effect sensor. We discuss how our classification method could be applied to other sensors to increase a robot’s functionality while retaining its cost.