Foster a Robot, Explore Your Home Planet

The robots we’ve sent to explore other worlds in our stead are impressive feats of engineering. But stuck at the bottom of our gravity well as we are, they are fantastically expensive ventures that are out of reach of the DIY community. There’s still plenty to explore right in your own backyard, though, and this robot needs your help to explore planet Earth.

The project is called RoboSpatium, and it’s the brainchild of [Norbert Heinz]. The idea is a little like HitchBot except it will be sent from host to host by mail. (And it’s an actual robot, and not just brains in a bucket.) Hopefully each host will have something interesting for the robot to do for the 24 hours allotted, like explore a local landmark, get a robot-eye view of the goings on in a hackerspace, or just watch the sunset in some beautiful spot. Project participants will get to drive the robot via a web interface and do a little virtual exploration of a part of the world they might never otherwise get to see.

We gather that the robot in the video below is only a prototype at this point, and that the sensor suite and mechanicals have yet to be sorted out. Hackaday regulars will no doubt know [Norbert] better as the excellently accented [HomoFaciens], creator of dumpster-sourced CNC machines, encoders made from tin can lids and wheels of resistors, and a potentially self-replicating CNC plotter. [Norbert] has the hacker chops to pull this off, and we think it’s a pretty neat idea with the potential to engage and educate a lot of people. We think it could do with a little support from the Hackaday community.

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Hacklet 106 – Robots That Teach

One of the best ways to teach electronics and programming is with hands-on learning. Get the concepts off the computer screen and out into the real world. Students of all ages have been learning with robots for decades. Many older Hackaday readers will remember the turtle robots. These little ‘bots would drive around drawing shapes created in the logo programming language. This week’s Hacklet is all about the next generation of robots that teach electronics, mechanics, programming, and of course, hacking. So let’s check out some of the best educational robot projects on Hackaday.io!

edubotWe start with [Tom Van den Bon] and Edubot Controller (Benny). Buying one or two robots can get expensive. Equipping a classroom full of them can break the bank. [Tom] is hoping to make robots cheaper and more accessible with Edubot, his entry in the 2016 Hackaday prize. Edubot rides on a 3D printed frame with low-cost gear motors for a drive system. Edubot’s brain is an STM32F042, a low-cost ARM processor from ST micro. The micro and motor drives are integrated into a custom board [Tom] designed. He’s has even begun creating lesson plans so students of various ages and skill levels can participate and learn.

microbotNext up is [Joshua Elsdon] with Micro Robots for Education. Big robots can be intimidating. They can also cause some damage when hardware and software created by budding engineers doesn’t operate as expected. Tiny robots though, are much easier to wrangle. [Joshua ] may have taken tiny to an extreme with these robots. Each robot is under 2 cm square. The goal is for each one to cost less than  £10 to produce. These micro bots have big brains with their ATmega328P micro controllers. [Joshua] is currently trying to figure out a low-cost way to produce wheels for these robots.

Next we have [shamylmansoor] with 3D printed mobile robot for STEM education. Robots are expensive, and international shipping can make them even more expensive. [Shamyl] is shooting for a robot which can be made locally in Pakistan. 3D printing is the answer. The robot’s chassis can be printed on any FDM printer. Wheels,and tires are low-cost units. Motors are RC servos modified for continuous rotation. The brains of the robot is an Arduino Mega 2560, which should provide plenty of inputs for sensors. [Shamyl] even included a solderless breadboard so students can prototype circuits and sensors right on the robot’s body.

 

plobotFinally we have [Rodolfo] with Plobot. Plobot is a robot designed for the youngest hackers – those from four to seven years old. [Rodolfo] designed Plobot to be programmed with RFID cards. Each card contains a command such as move forward, turn, start, and reset. Many of the language mechanics are inspired by the Scratch programming language. Plobot’s processor is a Sanguino, running [Rodolfo’s] custom code. An ESP8266 allows Plobot to be connected to the outside world via WiFi. [Rodolfo] has even created a custom over the air update system for Plobot’s firmware. Plobot has already been tested with students, where it made a great showing. We’re hoping both [Rodolfo] and Plobot do well in the 2016 Hackaday Prize!

If you want more mind hacking goodness, check out our brand new educational robot list! Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

MRRF: Jellybox, a STEM-Oriented Printer

It’s the first full day of fun here at the Midwest RepRap Festival. This year’s turnout is quite impressive—as I’m writing this, we’re an hour or so in and there are already hundreds of people and a couple of R2D2 units milling about.

The talks will begin in a few hours. This year MRRF has expanded to another building, which should tell you something about the growth of this festival. We are excited to hear [Filip] and [Ladi] give a presentation about Jellybox, a STEM-driven project he started to bring 3D printing into education in a comprehensive and hands-on way. The initial idea was based on [Jean Piaget]’s theory of constructionism. [Piaget] was a clinical psychologist who helped advance the idea that human learning is greatly influenced by connecting a person’s ideas with their experiences.

Building a Jellybox printer is about as easy as it gets, and takes about 4-6 hours depending on your skill level. The laser-cut clear acrylic panels are connected with zip ties that lock around 90° plastic brackets. The back panel even has a etched diagram that shows where all the connectors should go, and the wiring is neat and tidy by design. It’s meant to be easy to tear down so that teachers can use them again and again with middle and high school-aged students. The Jellybox is open-source; both the extruder and the hot end can be swapped out in a flash.

IMade3D offers one- and two-day intensive courses in the DC area that cover building a Jellybox and learning some things about 3D modeling. The kit is included in the price of admission. Jellybox kits will be available in a few weeks, but can be preordered today for $799.

Lego Nuclear Reactor Uses Arduino

Before the NSA deletes this post, we’ll be clear: We’re talking about a model of a nuclear reactor, not the real thing. Using Legos, [wgurecky] built a point kinetic reactor model that interfaces with the reactor simulator, pyReactor.

Even without the Lego, the Python code demonstrates reactor control in several modes. In power control mode, the user sets a power output, and the reactor attempts to maintain it. In control rod mode, the user can adjust the position of the control rods and see the results.

If things get out of hand, there’s a SCRAM button to shut the reactor down in a hurry. The Lego model uses an Arduino to move the rods up and down (using a servo) and controls the simulated Cherenkov radiation (courtesy of blue LEDs).

We’ve been excited to see more high schools with significant engineering programs. This would be a good project for kids interested in nuclear engineering. It certainly is a lot safer than one of our previous reactor projects.

Hacking Candle Extinguishing

Anyone can put out a candle by blowing on it. According to [Physics Girl], that method is old hat. She made an educational video that shows five different ways to put out a candle using–what else–physics.

You might not need alternate ways to put out a candle, but if you are looking to engage students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), this video along with others from [Physics Girl] might spark interest.

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Kids and Hacking: Electromagnetic Eggs

One of my favorite things to do is visit with school kids who are interested in engineering or science. However, realistically, there is a limit to what you can do in a single class that might last 30 to 90 minutes. I recently had the chance to work with a former colleague, a schoolteacher, and The Teaching Channel to create an engineering unit for classroom use that lasts two weeks.

This new unit focuses on an egg drop. That’s not an original idea, but we did add an interesting twist: the project develops a “space capsule” to protect the egg, but also an electromagnetic drop system to test the capsules. The drop system allows for a consistent test with the egg capsule releasing cleanly from a fixed height. So in addition to the classic egg drop capsule, the kids have to build an electromagnet, a safe switching circuit, and a test structure. Better still, teams of kids can do different parts and integrate them into a final product, closely mimicking how real engineering projects work.

There are a few reasons for the complexity. First, given ten class sessions, you can do a lot more than you can in a single day. Second, I always think it is good if you can find exercises that will appeal to lots of different interests. In the past, I’ve used robots and 3D printers for that reason. Some students will be interested in the electronics, others in the mechanics, and still others will be interested in the programming. Some kids will engage in 3D modeling (robot simulation or 3D objects). The point is there is something for everyone.

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Microsoft, Minecraft, and Kids

Code.org annually sponsors an Hour of Code (December 7th to the 13th will be the third one). The goal is to try to teach kids the basics of computer science in just an hour. Microsoft has announced they will team with Code.org to bring Minecraft-based lessons to this year’s hour.

It makes sense when you remember that Microsoft bought Mojang (the company behind Minecraft) last year. Users can sign up for the free Hour of Code Minecraft module and learn how to make characters adventure through a Minecraft world using programming. There are other themed modules, too, including Star Wars, Frozen, and other kid-attracting motifs. There’s also a lot of videos (like the one below) that explain why you might want to learn about computer science.

If you think Minecraft isn’t a sufficient programming language, don’t be so sure. There are many Minecraft CPUs out there as well as a (very slow) word processor. If you want real hardware, you might check out our review of Minecraft-related projects from earlier this year.

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