Tag Archives: DIY Robotics

Wink is a low-cost, Arduino-powered pet robot

This bug-like bot enables Makers to easily migrate from graphical style programming to written code. 

Pet rocks were all the rage in the mid-’70s, and then came the Tamagotchi in the ’90s. So what could be the next craze in the current millennium? Pet robots? It’s not a far reach. Robotics has been a disruptive innovation in STEM education, with a growing number of kits being deployed by K-12 educators to teach science and engineering. These easy-to-build and even easier-to-understand sets continue to provide students with a basic overview of programming concepts, with hopes of inspiring more children to pursue STEM disciplines. However, students will eventually need to move on to writing “real world” programming languages like Java, Python, C, and C++. Plum Geek saw this need, and came up with the next logical step to prepare the next wave of hackers, tinkerers and Makers.


Meet Wink — a low-cost, Arduino-based robot that instructs students how to write code, while programming the robot’s behavior as well. The project was originally conceived by a team of Makers who wanted to help transition students from graphical programming to more powerful written code languages. With Wink, students will learn the foundations of the C programming language, which is widely used to control microprocessors used in all manner of robotics, embedded systems, automation, and the growing Internet of Things revolution.

The Wink robot includes a free and open curriculum with lesson plans and guide videos that could be easily adopted at home, in the classroom, and at workshops. Students will train their new pet robot by programming common robotic tasks such as line following, light seeking, barrier detection, and autonomous roaming, while also leaving room for students creative experimentation.


If Wink looks vaguely familiar, that’s because the bug-like bot is the sibling of Plum Geek’s earlier Kickstarter success Ringo. These palm-sized pet robots may be small, but still pack quite a punch. Built around an Arduino Uno (ATmega328) at its core, Wink runs on a fast motor and each motor can be independently driven forward or backward. At full speed, it can zoom across the floor or table in the ‘wink’ of an eye — surely quicker than any pet rock you ever had!

What’s more, the bot is equipped with three sensors on top to measure any light that’s straight ahead and 45 degrees to either side, an infrared barrier headlight tucked under its nose to detect obstacles that stand in its way, four more sensors underneath for high-speed line following and edge detection, as well as a piezo buzzer to emit simple chirps and alarms. Onboard is a rechargeable 240 mAh LiPo, giving you hours of fun and experimentation.


Interested in a new pet robot for your house or classroom? Head over to Wink’s Kickstarter campaign, where its creators have once again stormed right by its initial goal. The first batch of units is expected to ship sometime in January 2016.

Vortex lets kids program their own robotic toy

Vortex is a smart and responsive robot that kids can play with and program themselves. 

The emergence of robotic gadgets have inspired a new generation of toys that are not only fun but educational as well. Joining the likes of Sphero, Hackaball, Kibo, LocoRobo and several others, Shanghai-based startup DFRobot has introduced a smart and responsive device for kids. Named Vortexthe robot enables its young users to play various games, learn about programming and even create their own via an accompanying app.


Designed with the novice Maker community in mind, Vortex works right of the box and simply pairs to a smartphone (iOS and Android) over Bluetooth. Thanks to its built-in computer and a dozen sensors, it is capable of maneuvering around the floor, desk or table with a touch of the screen. Vortex features four pre-installed, multi-player games, which allow kids to compete against one another in sumo-like bumping fights, play a round of virtual golf, race throughout the house or partake in an immersive match of robot soccer.

While Vortex will certainly prove to be an amusing play-thing, its creators hope that it will encourage more children to pursue STEM-related disciplines and begin tinkering around with code. This is made possible through an easy-to-use, intuitive app that enables graphical programming in a simple drag and drop manner. Vortex also comes with pre-set courses that teach how to make use of its built-in capabilities, which include recognizing hand gestures and avoiding drop-offs.


Aside from being open source, Vortex is completely compatible with both Arduino and Scratch. This opens up a wide range of possibilities, such as seeing and speaking through infrared, grayscale and sound speakers, and navigating around obstacles, detecting lines and reporting back to its user. With an ATmega328 MCU at its heart, the robot is equipped with 10 sensors ( two infrared proximity, two speed control, six line following), 12 independent RGB LEDs, as well as Bluetooth, USB and I2C connectivity options. Beyond that, it is powered by four AA batteries, boasts a life of 40-90 minutes, and can even show its emotions with up to 32 different eye expressions.


“We believe kids can benefit a lot from robotics, in identifying their own challenges, learning how stuff works, solving new problems, motivating themselves to complete a project, working together, inspiring and sharing with others. That’s why we created Vortex to be more than just a toy,” the team writes.

Know of a young one who would love such a device? Head over to Vortex’s Kickstarter campaign, where DFRobot is currently seeking $54,035. Units are expected to begin shipping in October 2015.

IoBot is a 3D-printable, Internet-controlled robot for Makers

This DIY robot can be controlled by mobile and computer application via LAN or USB.

Today, young Makers looking to start tinkering have more options than ever before when it comes to DIY robotics kits. Among those available is Zygmunt Wojcik’s open source project, IoBot.


The IoBot is an Arduino Uno (ATmega328) based, Rockem Sockem-like bot that can be controlled by both a mobile device and PC via LAN or USB cable. A companion application is capable of running on Android, Windows and Mac OS while the Arduino is written in Python/Kivy. Wojcik notes that while knowledge of programming languages isn’t necessarily required, any prior experience will certainly help in further developing the code should a Maker want to update an Arduino sketch or customize a particular robot command.

Beyond its Arduino brain, IoBot consists of about $70 of electronic components (an Ethernet shield, servos, LEDs and resistors) that can be reused in other projects, while the rest of the parts are 3D-printed. These include a right and left arm, a head, an upper and lower back, a front body, a base for the bot and another for the Arduino. For those without access to a 3D printer, these pieces can be created using 3D Hubs.


Once its parts have been sourced, the project — like many other Arduino-powered gizmos — is pretty straightforward from there. With the accompanying app, Makers can use the IoBoT to do everything from move its arms, head and body to control other DIY gadgets,  on/off LEDs, and a plethora of other programmable tricks.

“When you control the robot over a LAN, you can view LAPP messages on Arduino serial monitor, just connect the robot with your computer using USB cable. Check out what messages are sent to the robot by pressing each application button, and by moving each slider. You can use these data to control your own project with IoBot application. These messages, as well as ranges of sliders, can be changed in the source code of the application,” Wojcik writes.


Know a young one who may be interested in building their own robot? Head over to IoBot’s Instructables page here. Meanwhile, check it out in action below!

Hackabot Nano is an Arduino-based robotics kit

Now anyone can build a robot quickly and easily with this DIY platform.

Have you always wished that you could build your own robot, yet messy wiring and difficult-to-follow schematics deterred you from doing so? Well, you’re in luck. Inspired by a local meetup group, San Jose Maker Thomas Lee has launched a compact plug-and-play Arduino-based robot on Kickstarter.


Through his aptly-named Hackabot NanoLee hopes to enable do-it-yourselfers of all ages and skill levels to build a feature-rich bot without all of the hassles. Users simply connect the motors, plug in the sensors, attach the controller and then can begin programming. For those not quite code-savvy, the kit also comes with sample programs to help ease the process. Meanwhile, a free Android app is currently in development, which will even allow young ones to tinker with and navigate the robot via a smartphone or tablet.

Among the bots that can be constructed is “Speedy,” a two-wheel-drive gizmo ideal for flat and smooth surfaces like a desk, hardwood floor or a kitchen table. This makes it an ideal option for Makers wanting to transform it into a maze or line-following robot by simply adding some sensors.


By throwing on a few other features and a more powerful motor, Makers will have a fully-packed bot capable of traveling on uneven surfaces and being controlled over the web. In fact, users can summon it to a specific location based on GPS readings, or with its RF module, each robot can communicate with up to five others. (Good news if you’re looking to throw a robotic party!) Other possibilities include a bipedal or self-balancing droid, and even one that logs the temperature.

Those not entirely into the robotics scene will take pleasure in knowing that the platform can also be used to create a plethora of Arduino-driven IoT devices as well, ranging from a Wi-Fi connected garage door sensor and Bluetooth music player to an Internet-enabled sprinkler controller or a ‘duino walkie talkie.

Measuring just 4.7” x 4.7” x 2.2”, the palm-sized bot is controlled by an Arduino Nano (ATmega328) and features radio frequency, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and soon, Raspberry Pi connectivity. The gadget boasts a main PCB that is tasked with connecting each of the kit’s components and the mounting of up to four motors (either DC or servo) directly. In addition, the Hackabot Nano is equipped with a GPS module, a gyroscope and accelerometer, an ultrasonic distance sensor and a motor driver, as well as expandability through an audio jack, screw terminals for 4 PWM signals and I2C headers.


What’s more, assembly is super simple, requiring merely a screw driver and no soldering. The Hackabot Nano uses the C programming language (or coding can be done through Graphical Programming Interface instead), meaning that an assortment of libraries and examples for your controller and sensors will be readily available. Beyond that, Lee expects to include several online tutorials in the coming months.

Sound like you or someone you know would love a DIY robot? Head over to its official Kickstarter page, where Funnyvale is currently seeking $1,500. Shipment to backers is expected to begin in August 2015.

Quirkbot lets Makers build robots with drinking straws

A hackable toy that makes toys! 

Last January, Strawbees made its debut on Kickstarter. At the time, it was a construction kit that enabled Makers of all ages to create toys by simply connecting drinking straws and pieces of cardboard together. Now a year later, a spinoff project has emerged. The team behind the aptly named Quirkbot is working together with Strawbees to explore a whole new world of robotic creatures.


Using the new DIY platform, young Makers will have the ability to build and program quirky robots, blinking outfits and weird sounding “Qreatures” out of ordinary drinking straws, LEDs and hobby servo motors. Quirkbot itself is based on an ATmega32U4 MCU with an Arduino-compatible bootloader that can be made part of a Strawbees creation without any soldering or breadboarding.

The open-source, hackable tool allows Makers to easily program the bot directly from its website via USB. Quirkbot’s unique drag-and-drop components also enable users to connect and upload their toys with just a click of the mouse.


“Any child or grownup can do it. Let your creations express themselves and interact with their environment through sound, light and motion. Standalone or connected to computers, tablets or musical instruments. You’ll quickly see the potential in learning how to program something physical — the magic of connecting online and offline worlds,” the team shares.

At its most basic level, Quirkbot kits include dual-color LEDs, light sensors, a servo and backpack, as well as a USB cable. Meanwhile, more advanced users can obtain backpack extension sets that feature distance and sound sensors, along with speakers and MIDI capabilities. Adding these components to a project are done through what the team calls “squeeze on electronics.” Just like it sounds, Makers effortlessly squeeze the parts onto the toy’s legs using ordinary drinking straws. So, whether it’s devising a bot that hulas, sweeps, crawls, or rocks out, Makers are only limited by their own imagination.


“The Quirkbot has two ways of doing touch sensing already built-in to make almost anything into an interface. Loop touching for bigger things with water in them like humans and other fruits and capacitive sensing for metallic things. When plugged to a computer, the Quirkbot can work like a keyboard or mouse input. This makes it very easy to program the Quirkbot into a controller for any game or application,” its creators add. “The Quirkbot can also act as a MIDI-device, so it can play with music programs and you can even use it with an iPad.”

Interested in making your own robots with drinking straws? Learn more about and back Quirkbot on its official Kickstarter page, where the team is currently seeking $55,000. If all goes to plan, the first batch of shipments is slated for August 2015.

MeArm is a pocket-sized robotic arm for the masses

Developed by Benjamin Gray and Jack Howard, MeArm aims to bring a simple robotic arm well within the reach (and budget) of everyday educators, students, young Makers and parents alike.


The project — which recently made its Kickstarter debut — was conceived in order to make robotics, electronics and programing easier and more accessible to everyone. The ultimate goal? “To make something low-cost that you can build with nothing but a screwdriver and enthusiasm,” says Gray.

Powered by an Arduino Leonardo (ATmega32U4) or Uno (ATmega328), the MeArm is essentially a shrunken-down version of an ordinary industrial robot arm. The extremely portable, pocket-sized gizmo is also open-source, meaning that its entire design and code files are readily available for download so that Makers can view, update and learn from all of the work that has been put into the project thus far. As its Hackaday project log notes, there are already “well over 250 MeArms in the wild.”

According to its creators, it can be cut entirely from an A4 (or more accurately 300x200mm) sheet of acrylic and built with standard low-cost servo motors. In an effort to achieve its aforementioned “screwdriver and enthusiasm” goal, the team has unveiled a new platform they call MeBrain.


Based on an ATmega32U4 MCU — which is the same chip used in the Arduino Leonardo — the MeBrain’s two joysticks are responsible for commanding the MeArm. By simply plugging the robot arm into the board and the board into a power supply, Makers can control the robotic contraption as well as a few movements to play back.

“There are already some excellent code examples available for the MeBrain – provided by the amazing Bob Stone and there are even 30 tutorials to help you learn to code on the MeArm from one of our open source collaborators from Taiwan,” Gray notes.

Those interested in the easy-to-afford, even easier-to-use robotic arm should head on over to its official Kickstarter page, where the team is currently seeking £5,000.