With Computer Science Education Week in full swing and the holidays just around the corner, we’ve decided to list some of our favorite creations from this year that are inspiring the next generation of Makers to not only tinker around, but pursue STEM disciplines.
Created by Ayah Bdeir, littleBits was launched with hopes of making DIY hardware accessible to everyone of all ages. While making things with electronics can be a difficult feat, the company’s open-source, modular components easily piece together to form larger circuits. Young Makers can even connect real world ’things’ to the Internet, program IFTTT recipes, and sync it all to an Arduino using its ATmega32U4 powered module.
Drexel University professor Pramod Abichandani and a team of three undergraduate students recently developed the ATmega32U4 driven LocoRobo, a low-cost robot capable of being wirelessly programmed with minimal to no effort. Born out of his own frustrations with bots, Abichandani aspires to advance programming and robotics education for everyone — from first-graders to more experienced Makers — by combining a world-class programming ecosystem with a high-quality device.
Chibitronics Circuit Stickers Starter Kit
With Chibitronic stickers, young DIYers are able to make nearly any surface glow, sense or interact. An imaginative and simple way to create fun electronics projects, the kit not only allows users to easily affix their circuit sticker to a number of materials, but can even connect conductive materials like copper tape or even conductive paint to create elaborate designs, art project and entertaining birthday cards. What makes Chibitronic unique is its ability to converge the familiarity of stickers with electronic components, such as LEDs, sensor circuits and programmable MCUs (ATtiny85).
Think of MaKey MaKey as an invention kit for the 21st century, which gives young Makers the power to transform ordinary objects into Internet-connected touch pads. Powered by an ATMega32u4 MCU, the MaKey MaKey has been on the scene since Jay Silver successfully funded the project back in 2012, attaining nearly $570,000 in Kickstarter pledges. When a user touches an object that is hooked up to the board via alligator clips, i.e. a banana, a connection is made which sends the computer a keyboard message. In essence, the computer considers MaKey MaKey as a regular keyboard (or mouse), meaning it can work with pretty much all programs and webpages.
Developed by UX design from Slice of Lime, Nübi aims to teach basic programming skills to kids of any gender. The creation is described by its creator as an Internet-enabled toy that takes the form of a creature who just arrived on our planet and needs to be taught about everything, from colors to music to temperature. The toy is embedded with a series of sensors that enable it to wirelessly communicate like an RFID chip with other devices in its environment, such as a motion detector or light sensor. Kids use an accompanying flower-like wand, equipped with an [Atmel based] Arduino-controlled RFID reader, to talk to Nübi.
A group of Harvard University researchers have developed an $11 tool to educate young Makers on the fundamentals of robotics. Dubbed AERobot (short for Affordable Education Robot), its team hopes that it will one day help inspire more kids to explore STEM disciplines. The bot can move forward and backward on flat surfaces, turn in place in both directions, detect the direction of incoming light, identify distances using infrared light, as well as following lines and edges. With a megaAVR 8-bit MCU as its brains, most of its other electronic parts were assembled with a pick-and-place machine, and to reduce costs some more, used vibration motors for locomotion and omitted chassis. AERobot is equipped with a built-in USB plug that also allows it to be directly inserted into any computer with a USB port.
ArduSat Space Kit
Ask any classroom of kids what they want to be when they grow up, and undoubtedly a few imaginative youngsters will answer emphatically with “Astronaut!” With that lofty goal in mind, Spire (formerly Nanosatisfi) launched its ArduSat program to bring space exploration to the classroom. ArduSat is the first open satellite platform that enables the general public to design and run applications, games and experiments in space, while also steering onboard cameras to take pictures on-demand. More specifically, ArduSat is designed to give ordinary people – like students – the chance to conduct experiments by controlling over 25 different integrated sensors including spectrometers, magnetometers, radiation measurement devices, gyroscopes, accelerometers and thermometers. With its space kit, ArduSat is supplying individual classrooms all of the tools they need to carry out space exploration. Each set contains an Arduino Uno (ATmega328), a series of sensors, LEDs, and other components. By linking the sensors to the Arduino, students can measure levels of temperature, luminosity, and magnetic fields. Currently, more than two dozen schools are using ArduSat, with plenty more to follow.
While the team may not have been able to garner its $105,000 Kickstarter goal, ScratchDuino is an incredibly customizable and accessible robot-building platform that any young Maker would find helpful in their tinkering endeavors. The educational platform’s ease of use will help foster the robot design process for Makers both young and old. Featuring plastic encased parts designed for extended durability and kid resiliency, ScratchDuino includes two light sensors, two contact sensors, two reflective object sensors, and an infrared eye. At its heart lies an Arduino Uno (ATmega328) programmed with the Scratch language, which was developed by MIT.
Recently launched on Kickstarter, the XPlorerBoard Student is described by its creators as a fun and quick way to learn electronic circuits and programming. This revolutionary electronics system easily plugs into a Mac or PC, which enables Makers to run programs on its built-in ATmega328 MCU, which is also preloaded with the Arduino bootloader. The XPlorerBoard’s iPad and Android InventIT application features over 50 inspiring experiments, ranging from motion-activated burglar alarms to ping-pong video games.
When you think of painting, electricity isn’t probably the first thing that comes to mind. However, Bare Conductive is changing the game with its ATmega32U4 based Touch Board that lets Makers transform nearly all materials and surfaces into a touch sensor. Simply connect anything conductive to one of its 12 electrodes and trigger a sound via its onboard MP3 player, play a MIDI note or do anything else that you might do with an Arduino or Arduino-compatible device. Meanwhile, Bare Conductive’s Electric Paint — which works with a wide-range of materials from plastic to textiles — provides a great platform for discovering, playing, repairing and designing with electronics.
Coming off an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, Pi-Bot is a uniquely designed and affordable kit for anyone interested in building and programming robots. Designed by the STEM Center USA crew, the hands-on learning platform is based on the versatile ATmega328. According to STEM Center USA CEO Melissa Jawaharlal, the team designed the Pi-Bot from the ground up to optimize functionality and ensure affordability to its widespread audience, ranging from students to experienced engineers. The kit currently uses standardized C programming language (specifically meant for its Maker-oriented audience), and offers flexibility with its modular chassis, and line following and ultrasonic distance sensors.
Hummingbird Duo Robotics Kit
BirdBrain Technologies (a Carnegie Mellon University spinoff) recently debuted its Hummingbird Duo, a robotics kit powered by an ATmega32U4. The Duo controller serves as the core of all new Hummingbird kits, with a second Atmel chip, an ATtiny24A, tasked with controlling motors and servos. Part of the fun of constructing a robot with this innovative kit is that it’s building material agnostic, meaning a Maker can anything that may be lying around!
Mirobot – created by Ben Pirt – is an an ATmega328 powered DIY robotic kit designed to help teach children about technology. Not only is the open-source bot fun to build and simple to start programming it to draw shapes, the chassis is laser cut and snaps together quite easily. Once connected to a Wi-Fi network, Makers can browse through its on-board webpage and experience its Scratch-like visual programming tool. In fact, Mirobot can even be be programmed in several different ways, including a web-based GUI which is similar to LOGO, albeit with drag and drop.