Ok, here's how you can do it:
Download and install Arduino software version 11 (not 12).
Connect your hardware programmer to the $50 robot and to the computer. Power on the board.
From Arduino software, go to Tools, Board, select Arduino NG or older /w Atmega8.
From Tools, Burn bootloader, select /w AVRISP mkII.
It will automatically burn the bootloader. Then you can use the serial converter to upload sketches. Make sure the board is still the same and you select COM1 from the Tools, Serial port menu.