Tag Archives: STEM

Buzz is the cutest DIY electronics kit you’ll ever see

This adorable educational kit builds STEM skills as it grows from a simple project to a programmable friend.

If you’re looking to get your child or student interested in the STEM fields, the Soldering Sunday crew has got the answer. Not only is it probably the most adorable DIY kit we’ve ever seen, but Pixel Pals are an extremely easy and fun way to learn about electronics. Following in the footsteps of his friend Chip, Buzz is the latest addition to the ‘Planet M’ bunch.


“Many electronic kits do not offer anything more than a battery and a LED. Once completed, those kits end up in a drawer, never to be used again,” the team writes. “At the other end of the spectrum, there are electronic kits that are really interesting but have so many parts and instructions that they are intimidating. That is why we designed Buzz and the Pixel Pals to be simple to assemble, easy to use, and to be compatible with Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and dozens of other platforms.”

What’s really nice about Buzz is that he grows with the user. Like the rest of the Pixel Pals, the platform is designed in such a way that it enables a young Maker to develop their skill sets, despite their experience level, transitioning from simply an instructional kit to a soldering tutor to a friend that you can code.


Each Pixel Pal comes with an open source, ATtiny85 based board that Makers can build and program themselves. It is equipped with a USB interface and uses the familiar Arduino IDE. Simply plug Buzz into the aptly named Brain Board, connect it to your PC, and program away. On top of all that, it includes touch and light sensors to add an extra layer of interactivity to your Pixel Pal. When not connected to USB, it can still work off a single coin-cell battery.

It is also worth mentioning that the Brain Board has a header, meaning Buzz can be plugged directly into a Raspberry Pi or Arduino. The ATtiny85 is pre-loaded with the Micronucleus Bootloader, allowing the Brain Board to be programmed just as you would any other Arduino, whether that’s controlling his LED eyes or adding sound to your cute character.


“The Arduino and Raspberry Pi are excellent next step to work on larger projects and to dive deeper into the world of circuits and hardware,” its creators add. “Just as with all the Pixel Pals, Buzz grows with you in your skill and interest level and plugs into Arduino and with the Pixel Pi Adapter, plugs into Raspberry Pi as well.”

Each Pixel Pal character kit ships with four sets of LEDs — blue, red, green and yellow — along with a battery board and display stand. Intrigued? Head over to Buzz’s Kickstarter page, where Soldering Sunday is seeking $5,000. Delivery is expected to begin in November 2015.

Petduino is an Arduino-powered virtual pet

Arduino + Tamagotchi = Petduino 

Who could ever forget everyone’s beloved virtual pet of the ‘90s, the Tamagotchi? Inspired by his own childhood experience with the toy, Maker Matt Brailsford decided to put a new spin on the old concept by developing a digital companion that you could actually build and configure yourself.


At the heart of the aptly named Petduino lies an Arduino Nano (ATmega328), which can be programmed using the standard Arduino IDE and the custom Petduino Arduino library. The device itself consists of an 8×8 LED matrix for its face and notifications, a pair of tactile buttons mounted for interaction, a light and temperature sensor for detecting its surroundings, a red LED for status messages, a buzzer for a voice, as well as an assortment of ears for choosing which type of “animal” you want your Petduino to be.


According to Brailsford, Petduino was conceived as a fun way to teach young Makers various skills like soldering, coding, animation, music and sensors. Each kit will ship as a collection of simple through-hole electrical components, circuit boards and laser-cut parts that can be easily assembled with nothing more than a basic understanding of soldering. So whether you’re a kid looking to begin tinkering or an adult wanting to spark some Tamagotchi nostalgia, Petduino is perfect for everyone! Head over to its official page to learn more.

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.

These friendship bracelets will introduce more female programmers to the world

Jewelbots is reinventing the classic charm bracelet as a Bluetooth-enabled wearable that will teach girls how to code.

Developers Sara Chipps, Brooke Moreland and Maria Paula Saba have noticed that there is an extreme lack of women in the STEM-related fields. And although research has shown that 75% of girls were interested in such disciplines, a vast majority are choosing not to pursue computer science. In order to help combat this downward trend, the team has designed a new product that they hope will introduce the future generation of female engineers to coding. Unlike other wearable gadgetry on the market today, which track steps, count calories and monitor heart rates, Jewelbots are programmable bracelets that enable its young users to personalize and build their own custom features.


Originally inspired by the popularity of Minecraft for the predominantly adolescent male crowd, the entrepreneurs wanted to establish a similar environment for girls that would also allow them to explore their creativity and write their own mods.

Makers begin with a simple IFTTT-like statements on an accompanying mobile app. Once they are ready to advance, girls can plug their device into a PC, and using the open source Arduino IDE, customize their bracelets to their liking with sample libraries on the startup’s website. For instance, they can program their jewelry to illuminate with every new Instagram follower, when they receive a text from mom, their favorite TV show is about to start, or even if there is a change in the weather forecast. However, the possibilities are only limited to the imagination of its wearer.


Beyond that, the bands help keep girls stay in touch with their friends. Connected through Bluetooth Low Energy, the bracelets create a mesh network that lets users communicate with other Jewelbots wearers nearby, even without a paired phone or Wi-Fi. The Jewelbots can blink, vibrate and light up to communicate in Morse code. In terms of hardware, each unit is packed with a BLE SoC, a vibration motor, four LEDs, a button and a battery which can be recharged via USB.

“The numbers of women in computer science have actually shrunk since the mid 80s. At the same time, engineering and tech jobs are growing like crazy,” Moreland explains. “We want to inspire a deep curiosity and lasting love for computers and programming. A love that these girls can take with them throughout their careers and lives.”


As a way to test their theory, the team launched “Take Your Daughter To Hack.” During these daylong, bi-coastal events, parents and daughters (sons, too) were given the chance to devise wearables using the highly-popular Arduino GEMMA (ATtiny85) as well as a HTML/CSS workshop using Tumblr to make fun and engaging projects together. Safe to say, they were a success!

While its prototypes are currently being finalized, the end product will make its debut at the tail-end of summer, with widespread delivery expected to get underway in March 2016. At that time, the bracelets will come in a variety of colors — including pink, green, lavender, red, garnet, blue, teal, gray and back — and will be just as fashionable as they are fun! Interested? Head over to Jewelbot’s official Kickstarter page, where the New York City-based startup is seeking $30,000.

Eedu is an easy-to-use drone kit for young Makers

Assemble. Code. Fly. It’s as simple as that.

According to Mary Meeker’s 2015 “State of the Internet” presentation, drone shipments are estimated to hit 4.3 million units this year, with consumer drone usage expected to jump 167%. Combine those figures with the hundreds of thousands of Makers looking to begin tinkering with their next DIY project, and well, you have yourself quite the market. Much like a number of educational robotic kits that have been introduced to provide children with basic electronics and programming principles over the years, one Las Vegas startup is looking to take that education from the ground and into the skies.


Inspired by the hands-on learning that goes on inside classrooms, Skyworks Aerial Systems has launched Eedu an easy-to-use drone set that allows young Makers, educators and hobbyists starting out to devise new applications, other than just flying cameras. In order to make this a reality, the team has developed an intuitive platform that gives Makers the canvas they need to design their own UAV. The airborne apparatuses can be quickly pieced together using nothing more than its included parts, and are completely compatible with Arduino shields and other open hardware (littleBits and Seeed Studio).


Once assembled, the drone can be paired with its special robotic development environment (RDE) called Forge. This cloud-based, community-driven software lets users code their vision into a reality, while offering ground control, community interaction and various programming capabilities. What’s nice is that, being open source, Makers can build from existing codes. As soon as an app is completed and compiled onto their Eedu, the DIY copter is ready for the skies.


The drone itself is based on an Intel Edison, which enables programs to be easily created on a full Linux OS and boast enough processing power to develop more advanced apps, and employs an ARM Cortex-M4 running on RTOS for sensor processing, main flight control and to interface with the Edison. Eedu also comes with a set of four brushless motors with standard trapezoidal drive, each powered by megaAVR MCUs. What’s more, the machine features a sensor mounting platform, an Arduino shield port and a quick release battery pack. Crafted with safety in mind, the propellers are extremely lightweight and comprised of soft plastic alongside intelligent speed controllers that automatically disable the rotors whenever something gets in the way.


Beyond that, the team has unveiled a highly-advanced, adaptable flight controller driven by an Atmel | SMART Cortex-M7 MCU. Equipped with all of the electronics required for a drone to take to the sky, LUCI includes four built-in 20Amp brushless speed controllers, an Intel Edison expansion port, a DSMX compatible radio receiver, an optical flow position sensor, GPS and Arduino shield capability. Impressively, she can even be integrated on a number of consumer 250mm sized drones, giving Makers the ability to produce their own LUCI and Forge-powered UAV.


With hopes of granting future Makers and engineers access to the necessary tools for innovation, the team has given its crowdfunding backers the option to purchase a kit for students or entire classrooms.

“More than ever, schools are having a hard time acquiring technology. We passionately believe that students’ accessibility to technology should not be hindered! As such, we are creating a donation fund that will allow us to distribute drones to schools across the nation.”

Intrigued? Fly on over to Eedu’s Kickstarter page, where Skyworks Aerial Systems is currently seeking $100,000. Delivery is expected to begin in December 2015.

Roby is an Arduino-based, 3D-printable robotic platform

Young Makers can build their own customized, self-balancing robots as they explore programming and 3D design.

The brainchild of Seattle startup Socially Shaped, Roby is a 3D-printed robotic machine that not only drives on four wheels, but can walk on two. If it falls, it can even pick itself up again with its two arms.


The open-source robotic platform features a programmable on-board computer along with an Arduino remote controller. Developed as a way to introduce young Makers to programming and basic electronic principles, users can customize a personality for their bot, as well as add new attributes like computer vision, sensors and voice recognition.

“Roby is not just an entertaining robot, it’s a robotic learning platform. When you build Roby you will have an opportunity to learn in a fun and engaging way,” its creators explain.


In piecing together one’s very own Roby, Makers will have the unique ability to master programming languages, explore Arduino and Raspberry Pi, acquire rudimentary skills in Linux-based operating systems, and dabble with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth communication. Moreover, a child can leverage 3D printing to put a personal touch on their design.

For its Kickstarter launch, the team has unveiled three Roby kits — Roby Junior, Roby Standard and Roby Genius — each varying in price, capabilities and levels of complexity. What’s nice is that the Maker-friendly platform is also entirely upgradeable, so that a a user can graduate from one stage to the next.


Designed for novices, Roby Junior is an autonomous, RC robot controlled by an Arduino. Aside from the Atmel based board, the kit includes a pair of DC motors, a shield to drive the motors, an ultrasonic sensor to help Roby avoid obstacles and a remote control for enhanced entertainment.

Meanwhile, Roby Standard is an intermediate set for those seeking a little more adventure. The self-balancing bot can walk (well, sort of) on two wheels and is equipped with a pair arms to help it stand up should it fall. Beyond that, it can speed down a driveway in race car-like fashion or be outfitted with a set of tracks for some off-road fun. This Roby, which is a step up from the Junior model, features an Arduino, a custom shield, an ultra-sonic distance sensor, a gyroscope for self-balance, high-grade NEMA17 stepper motors for precision, servo motors for its arms, in addition to a few other electronic components.


As a Maker progresses with their Roby, they will ultimately arrive at the aptly dubbed Genius. Like its name would suggest, this gadget packs an on-board Raspberry Pi that can carry out countless actions and respond to voice commands. Not only does this kit ship with everything found in the Standard, Genius boasts a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth module for IoT exploration, a color graphical screen, a video camera, a microphone and a speaker.


It’s always refreshing to see new DIY platforms, such as mBot to LocoRobo, emerge in an effort to introduce children to STEM-related fields. Is Roby right for you? Head over to its Kickstarter campaign, where the Socially Shaped team is seeking $25,000. Shipment is expected to begin in August 2015.

Get ready to race these open-source, 3D-printed toy bots

Control these open-source, 3D-printable race cars with your mobile device.

As a way to get more young Makers interested in pursuing STEM-related fields, one Cambridge startup has launched a set of customizable, open-source race car kits. Cannybot Racers are 3D-printable, Bluetooth-enabled toy vehicles that can be remotely controlled using any mobile device, or even a Raspberry Pi.


Keeping in line with the burgeoning Maker Movement, the cars are super simple to create on just about any desktop printer, and can be programmed using Arduino, Blockly, mbed, Python or Scratch. Each Cannybot is comprised of several 3D-printed structural components — such as the chassis, top cover and wheels — that every school with access to a machine can construct in their lab, along with the addition of some low-cost hardware components. This includes a small yet powerful single board controller, dubbed the BlueBrain, which is driven by an ARM Cortex-M0 processor and features a Bluetooth 4.0 module and various motor controllers. The belly of the Arduino-compatible bot is also equipped with line sensor used to detect the track as it makes its way around.


“The openness of the platform enables students and those looking to begin tinkering around delve deeper — peeking behind their visual programming to see the Arduino code that actually runs on the robots — and physically taking apart and reassembling their Cannybots to see how the components fit together and communicate,” the team writes.

Not only can users purchase one of a few tracks printed on high-quality PVC material, which range from figure-eight tracks to complicated mazes, but Makers can just as easily use standard black electrical tape (or A4/A3 paper using a home printer) to design their own raceway on any hard surface.

Intrigued? Race on over to the project’s official page, or watch them in action below!

Ardusat gives young Makers control of satellites in space

Ardusat lets students to launch experiments in space and collect data from an orbiting satellite.

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, Salt Lake City-based startup Ardusat has partnered with satellite-based data provider Spire to launch a program that would bring space exploration to the classroom, allowing students to use programmable sensors onto satellites. And sure, while satellites may conjure up images of bus-sized contraptions, many of those now going into orbit are nearly the size of a softball.


As previously reported on Bits & Pieces, Ardusat is a first-of-its-kind open satellite platform that enables students to easily design and run applications, games and experiments in space, while also steering onboard cameras to take pictures. Since being first successfully launched back in August 2013 and transferred onto the ISS, Ardusat has already found its way into more than 40 schools that incorporate its space kits. What’s more, the company recently attained $1 million in seed funding from Space Florida, Fresco Capital, Spire and other undisclosed investors, and hopes to use the money to expand its program.


Ardusat is designed to give ordinary people the chance to easily program and control over 25 different integrated sensors including spectrometers, barometers, magnetometers, radiation measurement devices, gyroscopes, accelerometers and thermometers. Aside from those, each kit contains an Arduino Uno (ATmega328), a breadboard, LEDs, jumper wires, resistors and a USB cable.

The space kits mimic the function and size of actual satellites that are currently overhead. Once students complete their project inside the classroom, Ardusat tests their codes and sends the so-called “CubeSat” to one of the actual satellites. These CubeSats then orbit the Earth at nearly five miles per second, collecting a variety of data that students can actually use.


While a classroom full of space kits may cost over $2,500, the curriculum and the online resources are available for free. Beyond that, an individual unit, which designed for three to five students working together, will only set you back $150. Interested in learning more? Head over to their official page here.

BBC to give out 1 million devices to kids as part of new initiative

BBC launches a UK-wide initiative to inspire the next generation of programmers and engineers.

It’s no secret that the Maker Movement has transcended well beyond the garages and workspaces of a few tinkerers. The phenomenon has proliferated the walls of schools, libraries, museums and retailers, among countless other establishments. Academic institutions and startups, particularly those seen on crowdfunding sites, have developed new projects in hopes of spurring the pursuit of STEM-related fields for the next generation. Maker Faire attendance is also on the rise as thousands of DIYers come together at one of 80 community events spanning across 10 countries. Looking to continue carrying that momentum, BBC has launched a new project — in partnership with over 50 organizations — which is looking to give a personal coding device to every child in year 7 across the country. That’s 1 million free devices in total to students, generally aged between 11 and 13, as part of the campaign they’re calling “Make it Digital.”


Back in the 1980s, the BBC launched a Computer Literacy Project which aimed to support the learning of computing — at the time a relatively new concept for a vast majority — in schools and the home. This included a commercial partnership with Acorn Computers to produce a microcomputer as the backbone of the initiative: the BBC Micro. While nine models were eventually made with the BBC brand, the phrase “Micro” is usually used colloquially to refer to the first six (Model A, B, B+64, B+128, Master 128, and Master Compact). Well now, the news giant is reimagining its popular 1980s campaign by introducing its successor, the BBC Micro Bit.

Based on a processor which would appear to be an ATmega32U4, the Micro Bit will give students a physical companion in their path to coding competence. While merely a prototype at this point, it will be a standalone, palm-sized device equipped with an LED display and compatible with the Touch Develop, Python and C++ languages.


Young Makers will then be able to create text via a series of lights as well as devise basic games. What’s nice is that the final version of Micro Bit will feature a Bluetooth link and will be able to sync up with other incredibly-popular boards like Arduino, Galileo, Kano and Raspberry Pi, in addition to other Micro Bits.

According to BBC, the Micro Bit will be distributed later this year, most likely the fall. The program was designed as a response to a shortage within the digital industry, given that nearly 1.4 million professionals will be needed over the next five years. BBC is hoping to aid in building the country’s talent pool and arming them with the requisite coding skills through a range of new partnerships and projects.

Interested in learning more? Head over to the project’s official page here.

Robot Garden hopes to make coding more accessible for everyone

This robotic garden demonstrates distributed algorithms with more than 100 origami robots that can crawl, swim and blossom.

Created by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the aptly named Robot Garden is a defined as “a system that functions as a visual embodiment of distributed algorithms, as well as an aesthetically appealing way to get more young students, and particularly girls, interested in programming.”


At its core, the project is a tablet-operated system that illustrates MIT’s cutting-edge research on distributed algorithms using robotic sheep that were created through traditional print-and-fold origami techniques, origami flowers (including lilies, tulips and birds of paradise) that are embedded with printable motors enabling them to ‘blossom’ and change colors, as well as magnet-powered robotic ducks that fold into shape by being heated in an oven.

“Students can see their commands running in a physical environment, which tangibly links their coding efforts to the real world. It’s meant to be a launchpad for schools to demonstrate basic concepts about algorithms and programming,” explains Lindsay Sanneman, a lead author on the recently-accepted paper for the 2015 International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

The project is comprised of 16 different tiles, each connected to an Atmel based Arduino board and programmed using search algorithms that explore the space in different ways. The garden itself can be controlled by any Bluetooth-enabled device, either through clicking on flowers individually or a more advanced “control by code” feature that calls for users to add their own commands and execute sequences in real-time. In fact, users can interact with the garden through a computer interface, allowing them to select a tile and inflate/deflate the flower or change the color of its pedals.


“The garden tests distributed algorithms for over 100 distinct robots, which gives us a very large-scale platform for experimentation,” says CSAIL Director Daniela Rus, who is also a co-author of the paper. “At the same time, we hope that it also helps introduce students to topics like graph theory and networking in a way that’s both beautiful and engaging.”

The project was recently displayed at CSAIL’s “Hour of Code” back in December, where it surely did its part in inspiring kids to get interested in STEM-related disciplines. In the near future, the researchers hope to make the garden operable by multiple devices simultaneously, and may even experiment with interactive auditory components such as microphones and music that would sync to movements.

Interested? Head over to MIT’s official page here, and be sure to watch the garden in action below.