Educational Robot For Under $100

While schools have been using robots to educate students in the art of science and engineering for decades now, not every school or teacher can afford to put one of these robots in the hands of their students. For that reason, it’s important to not only improve the robots themselves, but to help drive the costs down to make them more accessible. The CodiBot does this well, and comes in with a price tag well under $100.

The robot itself comes pre-assembled, and while it might seem like students would miss out on actually building the robot, the goal of the robot is to teach coding skills primarily. Some things do need to be connected though, such as the Arduino and other wires, but from there its easy to program the robot to do any number of tasks such as obstacle avoidance and maze navigation. The robot can be programmed using drag-and-drop block programming (similar to Scratch) but can also be programmed the same way any other Arduino can be.

With such a high feature count and low price tag, this might be the key to getting more students exposed to programming in a more exciting and accessible way than is currently available. Of course, if you have a little bit more cash lying around your school, there are some other options available to you as well.

Nessie, The Educational Robot

At the Lifelong Learning Robotics Laboratory at the Erasmo Da Rotterdam in Italy, robots are (not surprisingly) used to teach all of the fundamentals of robotics. [Alessandro Rossetti] and the students at the lab have been at it for years now, and have finally finished their fifth generation of a robot called Nessie. The big idea is to help teach fundamentals of programming and electronics by building something that actually uses these principles.

The robot is largely 3D printed and uses an FPGA to interact with the physical world through a set of motors and sensors. The robot also uses a Raspberry Pi to hold the robot’s framework. The robot manages the sensors in hardware with readers attached to the CPU AXI bus. The CPU reads their values from memory space, though, so the robot is reported to be quite quick.

The lab is hoping to take their robot to a robotics competition in Bari, Italy. We hope that they perform well there, since we are big fans of any robot that’s designed to teach anyone about robotics and programming. After all, there are robots that help teach STEM in Africa, robots that teach teen girls about robots, and robots that teach everyone.

Hacking Helps Bring Educational Robot Projects In For A Few Dollars

suckerbot-tedx

Meet  [Dr. Thomas Tilley] and his robot Suckerbot which looks very much like a clear-plastic six-axis controller. His presentation at this year’s TEDxChiangMai is made of the stuff that makes us feel warm inside.

[Thomas] has been using joystick hacks to bring smiles to faces of kids in his part of Thailand. The video below covers some that he has done over the years. These include racing cockpits made out of PVC or bamboo which patch into a cheap joystick to control the action on a traditional gaming console. He’s also spun a different take on multiplayer Guitar Hero by splitting up the fret and strum actuators between several different kids.

But the main topic of his presentation is Lollybot, which is an Americanized version of its original moniker: Suckerbot. This was his entry into a 2012 contest which tasked hackers to build a robot that would cost under $10 to replicate in the classroom. That’s quite a challenge but he actually did it with enough to spare for a snack afterwards. Suckerbot is so named because he added a couple of candy suckers to the analog joysticks of a knock-off PlayStation controller. They act as inverted pendulums; when the robot runs into something the suckers shake which can be read by the computer controlling the robot. Food container lids wrapped with rubber act as wheels which are spun by the vibration motors from the joystick. And there’s even a set of line-following sensors built from photoresistors and some LEDs. His calculated cost? Just $8.96!

The hope is that robot projects stemming from this contest will help produce the next generation of hackers in Africa. If this stuff gets you excited you can take part. This year’s challenge deadline has been extended.

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Maker Faire NY: Where Robots Come Out To Play

There was an unbelievable amount of stuff on display at the 2018 World Maker Faire in New York. Seriously, an unreal amount of fantastically cool creations from all corners of the hacker and maker world: from purely artistic creations to the sort of cutting edge hardware that won’t even be on the rest of the world’s radar for a year or so, and everything in between. If you’ve got a creative bone in your body, this is the place for you.

But if there was one type of creation that stood out amongst all others, a general “theme” of Maker Faire if you will, it was robotics. Little robots, big robots, flying robots, battling robots, even musical robots. Robots to delight children of all ages, and robots to stalk the darkest corners of their nightmares. There were robots for all occasions. Probably not overly surprising for an event that has a big red robot as its mascot, but still.

There were far too many robots to cover them all, but the following is a collection of a few of the more interesting robotic creations we saw on display at the event. If you’re the creator of one of the robots we didn’t get a chance to get up close and personal with in our whirlwind tour through the Flushing Meadows Corona Park, we only ask that you please don’t send it here to exact your revenge. We’re very sorry. (Just kidding, if you have a robot to show off drop a link in the comments!)

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The Tiny, Pocket-Sized Robot Meant For Hacking

The world is full of educational robots for STEAM education, but we haven’t seen one as small or as cute as the Skoobot, an entry in this year’s Hackaday Prize. It’s barely bigger than an inch cubed, but it’s still packed with motors, a battery, sensors, and a microcontroller powerful enough to become a pocket-sized sumo robot.

The hardware inside each Skoobot is small, but powerful. The main microcontroller is a Nordic nRF52832, giving this robot an ARM Cortex-M4F brain and Bluetooth. The sensors include a VL6180X time of flight sensor that has a range of about 100mm. Skoobot also includes a light sensor for all your robotic photovoring needs. Other than that, the Skoobot is just about what you would expect, with a serial port, a buzzer, and some tiny wheels mounted in a plastic frame.

The idea behind the Skoobot is to bring robotics to the classroom, introducing kids to fighting/sumo robots, while still being small, cheap, and cute. To that end, the Skoobot is completely controllable via Bluetooth so anyone with a phone, a Pi, or any other hardware can make this robot move, turn, chase after light, or sync multiple Skoobots together for a choreographed dance.

While the Skoobot is an entry for this year’s Hackaday Prize, the creator of the Skoobot, [Bill Weiler] is also making these available on Crowd Supply.

This Is The Raspberry Pi Robot To Beat All Others

Before the introduction of the Raspberry Pi, building robots was hard. The best solution to turning motors on a chassis was repurposing an old roomba. For the brain, maybe you could throw Linux on a router and move your rover around with an old Linksys. Before that, you could buy a crappy robotics kit, thrown together in a box and sold as an ‘educational kit’. I’m sure there are a few readers out there that built robots by wire-wrapping HC11s.

Now we have 3D printers and Raspberry Pis, and with that comes a golden age of robotics. One of the best robot brains out there is the 8BitRobots Modules from [Tim Wilkinson], an entry for this year’s Hackaday Prize.

The 8BitRobots Modules are made up of a few components, not the least of which is a Pi Zero, a fantastically powerful (for its price) Linux computer that is available for five dollars. With an add-on board, cleverly named the RoBonnet, the Pi Zero gets PWM outputs for servos and ESCs, an H-bridge for motors, TTL serial, encoder inputs, a pressure and temperature sensor, an IMU, a power monitor, and everything else you need for a successful Pi robot.

But hardware is only one part of the equation. If you want to program a robot, you need a software stack that makes everything easy. That’s where the 8BitRobots distributed robot platform comes in. This is a bit of Javascript running on the Pi that allows you to program the robot in Blockly, a Scratch-like graphical programming environment that’s been adapted to run in a web browser. It’s an all-in-one solution to robotics development and programming, and an excellent addition to this year’s Hackaday Prize.

Controlling Robotics Visually

The world — and the Hackaday Prize — is filled with educational robots. These are small, wheeled robots loaded up with sensors, actuators, a few motor drivers, and some sort of system that is easy to program. The idea behind these educational robots is to give students an easy-to-use platform to test out code, learn inverse kinematics, and realize odometry is a lot harder than you think it is. Give these kids some time and patience, and you’ll have a fleet of Battlebots at the end of the semester, if the teacher is cool.

But there’s a problem with all educational robots. The programming. For someone just starting out in robotics club, being able to code isn’t a guarantee. You need an easy to use programming interface. This project for the Hackaday Prize gives all students a great visual programming interface. It’s basically like the first generation of Lego Mindstorms, only you don’t need a weird IR tower attached to a serial port.

Of course you can’t program a robot without a board, and this project brings it in spades. The brain for this platform is built on an ARM microcontroller, has Bluetooth, supports up to six DC motors, twelve analog inputs, PWM and serial ports, and all the ports are color-coded for kids who can’t read so good.

This is a visual programming environment, though, and with that, you get a fancy IDE filled with loops that wrap around commands, IO access that’s in easy to read blocks, and control software that gives students a dashboard filled with buttons and odometers and the video feed from the camera. It’s a great Hackaday Prize entry, and an excellent way to introduce kids to robotics.