“Bricking” Microcontrollers in LEGO Motivates Young Programmers

Back when he was about seven years old, [Ytai] learned to program on an Atari 800XL. Now he has a seven-year-old of his own and wants to spark his interest in programming, so he created these programmable LEGO bricks with tiny embedded microcontrollers. This is probably one of the few times that “bricking” a microcontroller is a good thing!

IMG_20150519_144818The core of the project is the Espruino Pico microcontroller which has the interesting feature of running a Java stack in a very tiny package. The Blocky IDE is very simple as well, and doesn’t bog users down in syntax (which can be discouraging to new programmers, especially when they’re not even a decade old). The bricks that [Ytai] made include a servo motor with bricks on the body and the arm, some LEDs integrated into Technic bricks, and a few pushbutton bricks.

We always like seeing projects that are geared at getting kids interested in creating, programming, and hacking, and this certainly does that! [Ytai] has plans for a few more LEGO-based projects to help keep his kid interested in programming as well, and we look forward to seeing those! If you’re looking for other ways to spark the curiosity of the youths, be sure to check out the Microbot, or if you know some teens that need some direction, perhaps these battlebots are more your style.

A Colorful Clock for Toddlers

[Don] and his wife were looking for a way to teach their two-year old daughter how to tell time. She understood the difference between day and night, but she wasn’t old enough to really comprehend telling the actual time. [Don’s] solution was to simplify the problem by breaking time down into colored chunks representing different tasks or activities. For example, if the clock is yellow that might indicate that it’s time to play. If it’s purple, then it’s time to clean up your room.

[Don] started with a small, battery operated $10 clock from a local retailer. The simple clock had a digital readout with some spare room inside the case for extra components. It was also heavy enough to stay put on the counter or on a shelf. Don opened up the clock and got to work with his Dremel to free up some extra space. He then added a ShiftBrite module as a back light. The ShiftBrite is a high-brightness LED module that is controllable via Serial. This allows [Don] to set the back light to any color he wants.

[Don] already had a Raspberry Pi running his DIY baby monitor, so he opted to just hijack the same device to control the ShiftBrite. [Don] started out using a Hive13 GitHub repo to control the LED, but he found that it wasn’t suitable for this project. He ended up forking the project and altering it. His alterations allow him to set specific colors and then exit the program by typing a single command into the command line.

The color of the ShiftBrite is changed according to a schedule defined in the system’s crontab. [Don] installed Minicron, which provides a nice web interface to make it more pleasant to alter the cron job’s on the system. Now [Don] can easily adjust his daughter’s schedule via web page as needed.


Tesla Truck Wants to Bring The Makerspace To The Children

With so many budget cuts, many public schools find themselves having to cut “unnecessary” programs such as shop, art, and music classes. They simply can’t afford to keep those things running and also teach other important concepts like math, language, and history. The obvious side effect is that kids don’t have a safe place to be creative and learn to make things with their hands.

Luckily, the maker movement has been rapidly growing over the last few years with makerspaces popping up all over the globe. These places are picking up the slack left behind by the budget cuts that hurt our public schools. But while makerspaces are getting more and more common, they still don’t exist everywhere. Even in those places lucky enough to have a makerspace, not everyone is aware that they exist and not everyone can afford to be a full-time member. This is where Tesla Truck comes in.

The Tesla Truck’s mission statement is “to provide a cutting-edge, mobile, hands-on STEM lab, where students, teachers, and makers can teach, learn, collaborate, create, and innovate.” It’s a noble cause for sure, but how do they plan to do this? This group intends to outfit a truck with the kinds of tools every maker dreams of. These would include a 3D printer, laser cutter, CNC plasma cutter, mill and lathe, electronics bench, and more.

Obviously just having a bunch of high-end tools is not going to cut it. Someone is going to have to teach people how to properly use these tools. The group behind the Tesla Truck is made up of educators, engineers, and published researches who have been doing this kind of thing for a while now. This group has been packing up their own personal tools into their hatchbacks and setting up shop in school classrooms around New York City, only to have to break down at the end of the day and bring them all home again. Together with the students, this group has built things like robots, quadcopters, and water purifiers. The Tesla Truck will give them the ability to reach more people much more easily.

The Tesla Truck is looking to raise a total of $62,804.01 to make their dream a reality. They have raised more than half of that outside of crowd funding. They’ve now turned to Indiegogo to raise the last $24,300. They have ten days left and they are almost halfway to their goal. You can watch their campaign video below to get a better feel for what they are all about. Continue reading “Tesla Truck Wants to Bring The Makerspace To The Children”

A Homemade Bubble Robot for the Kids


Kids generally can be amused pretty easily, but when jangling keys stop holding their interest you might want to take a look at [drenehtsral]’s new project. He’s created an automatic bubble robot (YouTube link) that keeps the kids endlessly entertained!

The project started as an idea at a festival where one of [drenehtsral]’s kids took great interest at a bubble machine. [drenehtsral] had never heard of a bubble machine before, but it turns out that it’s pretty simple in practice. All that’s required is a tank of soapy water, a motor to turn the bubble wands, and a fan to form the bubbles and make them waft gently through the air.

[drenehtsral] also used a 12V battery for power, some other hardware to hold it all together, and a 5V regulator and some other control electronics for the fan and the motor. He notes that he could have bought a bubble machine but in true hacker style found it fun to build himself. The next step in this project could be something to vary the size of the bubbles, or perhaps a set of wheels for the robot so it can entertain the kids on the move!

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The Lightgame Project: A Multiplayer Arduino Game

lightgame_3Summer is upon us. The Lightgame Project is a multiplayer reaction time based game built around the Arduino. It’s a perfect rainy day project for those restless kids (and adults!). Designed by two undergraduate students [Efstathios] and [Thodoris] for a semester long project, all the hard work has already been done for you.

There are tons of reasons we love games that you can build yourself. For one, it’s an amazing way to get children interested in hobby electronics, making, and hacking. Especially when they can play the game with (and show off to) their friends. Another reason is that it is a perfect way to share your project with friends and family, showcasing what you have been learning. The game is based on your reaction time and whether or not you press your button when another players color is shown. The project is built around two Arduinos connected via I2C. The master handles the mechanics of the game, while the slave handles the TFT LCD and playing music through a buzzer.

I2C is a great communication protocol to be familiar with and this is a great project to give it a try. [Efstathios] and [Thodoris] did a great job writing up their post, plus they included all the code and schematics needed to build your own. It would be great to see more university professors foster open source hardware and software with their students. A special thanks goes out to [Dr. Dasygenis] for submitting his student’s work to us!

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Introducing Mirobot, a DIY WiFi Robot for Children

We’re quite sure that fathers parents people reading Hackaday wonder how to introduce their children acquaintances to the wonderful world of electronics. The Mirobot (Kickstarter link) might just be a good way to do so. As you may see in the picture above the Mirobot is a small WiFirobotics kit that children can build themselves to learn about technology, engineering and programming.

The laser cut chassis is assembled by snapping it together. All the electronics are left exposed to the outside so children may try to figure out which component does what. The robot is configured over your home WiFi via a Scratch-like visual programming tool. Everything (PCB, Arduino code, user interface) is open source.

The platform is based around the Arduino compatible ATMega328, two stepper motors, a Wifi module that can behave as a client or access point and 5 AA batteries. The campaign stretch goals include a collision detection sensor, line following functionality and finally a sound add-on.

Thanks [nickjohnson] for the tip.

Adafruit launches educational show aimed at kids


Adafruit Industries just posted the first episode in a new educational series aimed at teaching kids about electronics. The episode is entitled “A is for Ampere” and teaches the basic theory behind electrical current. The subject seems like a common one for A-to-Z themed electrical tutorials. [Jeri Ellsworth] did a similar episode but hers is aimed more at the electronics hobby crowd.

[Limor] and gang (that’s [Collin Cunningham] dressed up as [Andre-Marie Ampere]) seem to be all-in on this project. The episode features ADABOT, the blue puppet which takes on the role of the student in this episode. After demonstrating a mains circuit breaker tripping the episode goes on to discuss electron flow and how current is measured.

We’re all about this type of educational opportunity. The age group at which this series is targeted have never known a day without touchscreens, they should know at least something about how those devices actually work.

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