Hackaday Prize Entry: Micro Robots For Education

[Joshua Elsdon] and [Thomas Branch] needed a educational hardware platform that would fit into the constrained spaces and budgets of college classes. Because nothing out there that was cheap, simple and capable enough to fit their program, the two teachers for robotics at the Imperial College Robotics Society set out to build their own – and entered the Hackaday Prize with a legion of open source Micro Robots.

These small robots have a base area of 2 cmand a price tag of about £10 (about $14) each, once they are produced in quantities. They feature two onboard stepper motors, an RGB-LED, battery, a line-following sensor, collision-sensors and a bidirectional infrared transmitter for communicating with a master system, the ‘god bot’. The master system is based on a Raspberry Pi with little additional hardware. It multiplexes the IR-communication with all the little robots and simultaneously tracks their position and orientation through a camera, identifying them via their colored onboard LED. The master system also provides a programming interface for the robots, so that no firmware flashing procedure is required for students to get their code running. This is a well-designed, low-cost multi-robot system, and with onboard sensors, stepper motor odometry, and absolute positioning feedback, these little robots can be taught quite a few tricks.

Building tiny robots comes with a lot of regular-sized challenges, and we’re delighted to follow [Joshua Elsdon] and [Thomas Branch] on their journey from assembling the tiny PCBs over experimenting with 3D printing and casting techniques to produce the tiny wheels to the ROS programming. The diligent duo is present in the Hackaday prize twice: With their own Micro Robots project and with their contribution to the previously covered ODrive – an open source BLDC servo controller. We are already curious about their next feat! The below video shows a successful test of the camera feedback integration into the ROS.

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Low-Cost, Arduino-Compatible Drawing Robot

Bringing women into technical education at times seems to be an insurmountable challenge. As a counter, a small drawing robot created by [MakersBox] might help. The robot was used in a ChickTech workshop for teen girls.

“Turtle draw” by Valiant Technology Ltd..

The goals for the robot were to have an easy to build, easy to program robot that did something interesting, and was also low-cost so the workshop participants could take it home and continue to learn. These requirements led [MakersBox] to the Adafruit Pro Trinket 3V, stepper motors for accuracy, and a 3d printed chassis to allow for customization.

Another version of the Arduino should work without any problems and even possibly a Raspberry Pi, suggests [MakersBox]. With the latter’s more diverse programming environment opening up a lot of possibilities

Drawing robots like this for education are not new. [Seymour Papert] created one of the first turtle robots, seen at the left, in the 1980s. He even created the Logo programming language and adapted it for use with the turtle. An interesting similarity between [MakersBox’s] and the original turtle is the drawing pen is in the center of both.

Hat tip to our friends at Adafruit.

A rose, is a rose, is a rose, even if drawn by a robot, after the break.

Continue reading “Low-Cost, Arduino-Compatible Drawing Robot”

There’s a Bug in My Robot

What has six legs, 25 LEDs, a Microchip CPU, can be sewn into clothing, and even plugged into a Raspberry Pi? The answer, it turns out, is the CodeBug–a low cost computer board aimed at the educational market. These board were crowdfunded and are now available for general purchase. [Mike Redrobe] took one of the boards, connected a few servos and used the CodeBug’s Scratch-like language to create a small robot.

You can see the robot in the video below. Programs download via USB (the board looks like a USB drive). You can also send commands over USB to operate in tether mode, or you can directly plug the board into a Raspberry Pi.

Continue reading “There’s a Bug in My Robot”

Open Source Hackable Robot

The world of robots is an interesting place, and it’s an even better place for children to get started in electronics. To that end, [Richard Albritton] has created a low-cost, open source robotics platform called the Hack-E-Bot specifically tailored to make it as easy as possible to get started.

The goals for the robot kit were to spark curiosity for electronics and programming, to be easy to assemble and program, to be scalable, and to be as easy on the wallet as possible. This was accomplished by using the familiar Arduino microcontroller on an intuitive platform. The robot uses an ultrasonic rangefinder to navigate as well, and can support a wide range of other sensors. The kit comes in at just under $50, making it a great option for an entry-level robot.

The project is currently seeking crowd funding and [Richard] is also seeking educators to get involved. Currently the only kits available are at fairs and other conventions but they should be able to start producing them in greater quantities in the future. The Arduino libraries are a work in progress but they are available on the project site, as well as several instructional videos and other information about the project.


MiniBloq IDE, Graphical Programming For Robots Of All Sizes


The Arduino IDE only brings the ire of actual EEs and People Who Know Better™, but if you’re teaching robotics and programming to kids, you really don’t want something as simple as a text editor with a ‘compile’ button. For that educational feat, a graphical system would be much better suited. [Julián] has been working for months to build such a tool, and now miniBloq, the graphical programming tool for just about every dev board out there, has a new release.

The idea of a graphical programming language for robotics has been done before, most memorably with the Lego Mindstorms programming interface. That was closed source, of course, and only worked with the magical Lego brick that allowed you to attach motors and sensors to a child’s creation. miniBloq takes the same idea and allows the same programming environment to work with dozens of dev boards for robots of every shape and size. Already, the Pi-Bot, SparkFun RedBot, Maple, Multiplo DuinoBot, and anything based on an Arduino Leonardo works with miniBloq, as will any future dev boards that understand C/C++, Python, or JavaScript. It’s not just for powering motors, either: there’s a few Python and OpenCV tutorials that demonstrate how a robot can track a colored object with a camera.

The current version of miniBloq can be downloaded from the gits, with versions available for Windows and *nix. The IDE is written with wxWidgets, so this could also be easily ported to OS X.