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Hummingbird Duo: A Robotics Kit for Ages 10 to 110's video poster

Make and program robots, animatronics, and more with Hummingbird Duo. Duo grows with your abilities, the sky is the limit! Read more

Pittsburgh, PA Robots
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This project was successfully funded on July 2, 2014.

Make and program robots, animatronics, and more with Hummingbird Duo. Duo grows with your abilities, the sky is the limit!

Pittsburgh, PA Robots
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About this project

Hummingbird Duo: Very low Floor, Shoot-for-the-Moon Ceiling

The Hummingbird Duo may be the first electronics kit that is fun and educational for a fourth grader, a high school student, a college engineering student, or an adult maker. We have designed several levels of learning into the Hummingbird experience. Instead of a steep learning curve, learners go up a staircase where each step increases skills and where mastering each step allows one to use the Hummingbird in a new and more interesting way.

The Parents' Choice Gold Award-winning version one Hummingbird robotics kit, released in 2012, featured a controller that operated as a tethered I/O board that allowed one to write programs that control motors, LEDs, and sensor data. The Hummingbird Duo is essentially two boards in one: It operates as either an original Hummingbird controller or as an Arduino Leonardo with an integrated motor/servo shield and improved connectors. We have often referred to our version one Hummingbird as a "pre-Arduino" because using it helps build skills and confidence that make it easier to use Arduino. With the Hummingbird Duo, we've built the Arduino right into the controller, so that anyone who wants to can immediately take that next step! 

Duo's two sides, Arduino and Hummingbird
Duo's two sides, Arduino and Hummingbird

The Duo controller will be the core of all new Hummingbird kits. The kits will include various additional components as well: motors, servos, vibration motors, LEDs, and sensors. All kit components are soldered with 24" braided wires and terminate in bare, tinned wire to prevent wire fraying. Securely connecting them to the Duo controller is easy due to Duo's clear labels and spring-loaded terminal blocks. 

Depending on the type of kit (see rewards), components may include:

  • HS-311 Servo. These are off-the-shelf servos used in many RC car/plane and robotics projects. They are frequently used with Hummingbird to make robot arms, legs, wiggly eyebrows, and more!
  • Pololu Gearmotor. These motors are great for creating turntables, carousels, or wheeled robots. We are including a wheel with each motor, as well as piece that adapts the shaft to a 40-tooth LEGO gear.
  • Super bright single color LED. We love LEDs, and so do most people playing with Hummingbird kits. We include four with every kit, they come in green, red, orange, and yellow.
  • Tri-color LED. These LEDs have red, green, and blue elements. Pop a styrofoam ball on them and you have an eye that can be angry (red) or sad (blue). 
  • Sensors. Our standard sensor line-up includes light, temperature, distance (out to 3 feet), and ambient sound, as well as a fun little control knob. See stretch goals for other sensors we may support! 

What about Building Materials?

Example Robots Built from Arts & Crafts materials
Example Robots Built from Arts & Crafts materials

Part of the fun of building a robot with the Hummingbird kit is that we are building material agnostic: use anything you have lying around! The kit comes with no included building materials, although we have seen robots built out of the boxes that our version one kits are shipped in!

Hummingbird originated with the Arts & Bots project in the Carnegie Mellon CREATE Lab, and perhaps owing to this influence, most of the robots built with the version one kit are made of arts & crafts supplies and/or recyclable materials. Craft materials are familiar and beloved by virtually all kids, and kids know how to build with them. Craft projects are also common in elementary or middle school, making it easier to integrate Hummingbird into core subjects like history or science! 

Part of Hummingbird's mission is to explode common conceptions of how robotics can be used in K-12 education. Here's just one example of an arts & crafts project made with a Hummingbird version one kit, a robotic interpretation of the children's book Bunnicula:

Check out the Arts & Bots blog for hundreds of other examples!

Programming: So many options, and all of them Free!

Hummingbird supports programming environments that range from very easy to get started with to advanced and powerful. Everything is free, open source, and runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux:

CREATE Lab Visual Programmer. The CREATE Lab visual programmer is the original way to program the Hummingbird: it was designed as part of the same research program, Arts & Bots, that led to the development of Hummingbird. The Visual Programmer employs a novel storyboarding concept to programming robots that is fast to learn while still allowing programming of complicated robot behaviors. 

Scratch 2.0 and Snap!. Scratch is a tile-based visual programming language developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT. It is an excellent first programming environment for children. Snap! retains' Scratch's look and feel, but adds higher level computer science concepts; it is even used in UC Berkeley's Beauty and Joy of Computing course! We provide software that allows Hummingbird to work with these two great environments.

Arduino IDE. Download code to the Duo and unplug it from the computer! You can optionally use our Hummingbird library for Arduino to simplify using standard kit components in Arduino programs.

There are more advanced ways to use Hummingbird Duo as well. In tethered mode, we provide Java and Python APIs, for Windows/Mac/Linux and Raspberry Pi! Or you could write your own firmware for Hummingbird Duo in AVR GCC.

 There are four reward levels that include a Hummingbird Duo controller:

  • Hummingbird Duo Controller. This gets you a Hummingbird Duo, as well as a power supply, USB cable, and a screwdriver to help you plug everything in. You can always buy kit components later, or make them yourself.
  • Hummingbird Base Kit. The base kit includes everything you need to make a small robot, like this one: 
's video poster
  • Hummingbird Premium Kit. The premium kit has more of everything, and a larger variety of sensors and motors. You can build some awesome robots with one of these kits:
's video poster
  •  Classroom Kit. The classroom kit is parts-optimized to support 16-24 students. Our version one kits have been out in classrooms for almost two years, and feedback from teachers have allowed us to figure out exactly what parts get used in what frequency. Classroom kits will also come with curricula, check-out sheets, electronics parts glossaries, tools like wire strippers, and other useful materials.

Here's exactly what gets included with every kit:

Other Rewards

You can also support our efforts in other ways. For as little as $5, we will add your name (if desired) to our wall of backers, to be hosted at This page will be linked from the Hummingbird Kit's homepage.

For $25 or more, you get an awesome Hummingbird T-shirt, with a big, bright orange robot Hummingbird on a royal blue shirt. Kid and adult sizes available.

Prototype shirt, front and back.
Prototype shirt, front and back.

Finally, for $6,000 we will travel to your location and do a full day training workshop with up to 20 participants. Every participant will receive a base kit to keep that they will use over the course of the day to build and program a robot. We have run training workshops with Hummingbird for two years to tremendous success. We frequently receive feedback like "I am a 55 year old art teacher and I was extremely skeptical going in that I would make anything. I can not believe that I designed, built, and programmed my first robot today!" Check out this video from an educator training workshop to see the kinds of robots that can be built in just a few hours:

Pixy Integration - Unlock at $50,000

Pixy is a camera combined with an integrated vision processor, allowing it to easily recognize purple dinosaurs and other objects. We happily backed their Kickstarter campaign, and already have Pixy working with our prototype Hummingbird Duo in Arduino mode. With a little extra funding, we'll be able to do the software development required to get Pixy working as a sensor in the CREATE Lab Visual Programmer, Scratch 2.0, and Snap! so you'll be able to program robots that react to objects and colors with drag and drop programming environments.

Fun fact: Pixy and Hummingbird both originated from research conducted at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute!

3D Printable Parts - Unlock at $90,000

We want to give you a reason to use that 3D printer you bought for your Makeshop or basement! We'll create and open source designs for:

  • Pulley wheels and other attachments for gear motors and servos
  • Caps for LEDs (white plastic is an excellent diffuser)
  • Mounts for servos and motors
  • Case for the Hummingbird Controller

We will release the source CAD files so that you can use our designs as starting points for your own.

20 Curricular Resources - Unlock at $150,000

We are building a resource sharing site that should go live over the summer to allow educators to share awesome curricular modules. With added funding, we can incentivize some of the existing star teachers using the current kit to document their Hummingbird projects and share them on this site before the Hummingbird Duo ship date. The projects profiled in our Kickstarter video are a tiny tip of a very large iceberg! The projects will cover use from 4th grade to high school, and will align with state standards where appropriate. 

Exciting New Sensor Pack - Unlock at $250,000

We have prototype sensors that measure humidity, barometric pressure, acceleration, and remote temperature. At $250,000, we will be able to fund the creation of the initial inventory for these sensors and will have them for sale by December.

The Hummingbird Duo is an excellent kit for introducing electronics, robotics, engineering, and programming in any environment: at home, in the classroom, in summer camp, or in a club. That said, we are passionate about integrating Hummingbird with classroom education, for two reasons:

  • Everyone has to go to school! If Hummingbird projects become part of the regular school day, ALL students will experience engineering, coding, and robotics. We believe that these skills are fundamentally important to living a successful and rich life in our society (whether the students become engineers or not).
  • Maker tools like Arduino and Raspberry Pi, and software environments like Scratch, have empowered some kids to do wonderful things and learn a ton in the process. This is great, but most of this learning is happening outside of school. We believe that bringing these kinds of activities into the classroom and integrating them with the core curriculum will strengthen learning not just in engineering or coding, but in the core subjects as well. 

We are focused on two major goals this year: Launching Hummingbird Duo, and improving our support for classroom use. To this end, we have several projects this year that are aimed specifically at assisting teachers with integrating Hummingbird with classroom education:

  • ITEEA/Engineering byDesign Partnership. We are partnering with the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association to produce a standards-aligned module for using Hummingbird in 6th grade. This module will be free with the purchase of a Hummingbird kit. The module will integrate Hummingbird with the excellent Engineering byDesign curriculum.
  • Training Network. We are developing a network of professional development partners who can provide training workshops to interested school districts or other organizations. 
  • Resource Sharing Site. We are launching a resource sharing site where educators will be able to upload curricular resources. We've been blown away by the projects teachers using version one kits have shared with us, and we think there are dozens of excellent projects out there that could be shared if we provided an easy way to do so. If we reach our 20 curricular resources stretch goal, we'll be able to guarantee that this site is seeded with excellent modules and examples before we begin shipping.

We recognize that K-12 education doesn't turn on a dime: There are standards to be aligned to, administrators to be persuaded, budgets to be approved. Even when the stars align, it is often best for students and teachers for Hummingbird use to be limited in the first year - with a single project in one or two subjects. Our professional development, curricula, and documentation are designed to help, but we recognize that actual classroom use is the best way for teachers to discover how Hummingbird fits. We're not worried; nearly all the teachers we know who have used Hummingbird version one kits report finding new and more uses for the kits year over year; and many give glowing reviews. As a company, we are bootstrapped, profitable, growing, and have no debts. We are in this for the long haul.

Our goal is for all students to learn some computer science and engineering as part of the regular school day. In addition to our products, we directly support this goal in the following ways:

    In 2013 we donated 350 of our Finch robots to schools around the USA. These robots are traveling to 75 schools where they are being used to introduce coding and computer science to over ten thousand elementary, middle, and high school students.  

Since 2012, we have pledged 1% of our net profits to the Computer Science Teacher's Association. We believe in the work of the CSTA, which supports and promotes the teaching of computer science by providing resources, standards, professional development, and research.

The Hummingboard Duo is an Arduino at Heart product. A percentage of every sale will go to Arduino to continue developing the tools and infrastructure that have allowed us and so many others to build awesome, empowering products.

All of our software and hardware will be released under open source licenses, this includes:

  • The schematic and layout files for the Hummingbird Duo controller
  • Assembly descriptions of other kit components
  • The firmware to run Hummingbird in tethered mode
  • The CREATE Lab Visual Programmer (developed and open sourced by Carnegie Mellon's CREATE lab)
  • The server utility used to connect Hummingbird with Scratch 2.0 and Snap!

Hummingbird was developed as part of the Arts & Bots program at Carnegie Mellon's CREATE Lab. Arts & Bots (formerly Robot Diaries) development began in the summer of 2006 in a series of participatory design workshops with middle school girls. We set out to find a way to keep middle school girls engaged with robotics - at an age when many girls forego such activities - perceiving it as 'just for boys'. 

The Arts & Bots program has since expanded in scope and philosophy to include both boys and girls -  drawing upon students' interests in arts, crafts, communication, and storytelling while providing them with technical and design knowledge which enables them to build and utilize their own personal robots. Arts & Bots is currently engaged in a three year research program involving four universities and over a dozen primary and secondary schools to study the efficacy of using Hummingbird kits with K-12 students as part of the regular school day.

The Hummingbird kit was initially developed for the Arts & Bots program in 2009, with 100 research beta units used from 2009-2011 initially in out-of-school environments, and later in middle school classes. The success of these programs coupled by requests from teachers and students for a commercial source of the kit led us to spin-off BirdBrain Technologies to produce and sell the version one Hummingbird kit in 2012. 

The version one Hummingbird kit has been adopted by hundreds of classrooms, and has also landed under many Christmas trees: in 2012 Fast Company declared it one of "3 Gifts to get Girls Interested in Engineering" and in 2014 we received the Parents' Choice Gold Award for best new toy. We were also recognized by the National School Board Association.

That said, we are constantly striving to improve everything about Hummingbird: software, instructional materials, and the core hardware. The Hummingbird Duo includes many of the features requested by our core community of teachers: Tetherless operation, Arduino mode, and more minor improvements like wheels for motors, solid-ended leads, improved sound sensing, and color-coding of the connectors by function. We are extremely excited about its potential to empower positive classroom experiences and to grow with students as they learn.

BirdBrain Technologies is a Pittsburgh, PA firm founded by Tom Lauwers in 2010 to commercialize educational technology developed by the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute’s CREATE lab. Our products include the Finch robot, a programmable robot for computer science education, and the Hummingbird robotics kit.

We are a small team supported by researchers and software developers at the CREATE Lab and a strong team of consultants specializing in design, web development, curriculum, and professional development, as well as manufacturing and fulfillment contractors (both local and overseas). 

Tom Lauwers

Prior to starting the company, Tom was a Ph.D student in the CREATE lab at Carnegie Mellon University and was principal hardware engineer on the research projects that led to the Hummingbird Robotics Kit and to the Finch robot. His core competence is developing educational “gadgetry” to help students to create compelling, personal artifacts. In the process, students often accidentally learn engineering, computer science, math, and how to work together. Tom has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, and an M.S. and Ph.D in Robotics, all from Carnegie Mellon University.

We've done this before! We have existing relationships with suppliers who have helped us manufacture and ship over 3000 Hummingbird version one kits in the last 20 months. We know lead times for the various parts in the kit, and have also discussed with our suppliers how lead times vary based on volume in case we have a very large number of orders. 

That said, producing Hummingbird kits is a complicated operation, with parts sourced from all over the world. Specifically:

  • The Hummingbird Duo Controller is made near Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Servos are made in the Philippines and sourced in the US.
  • LEDs, Sensors, motors, packaging, and the manuals are made in Beijing, China by a manufacturing company that we have worked with for four years.
  • Final kit assembly and shipping will be performed by our current warehousing and order fulfillment provider, also located in Pittsburgh. 
  • With parts coming from so many sources, the key will be to get them all in one location at the same time. As soon as the Kickstarter is funded, we will pull the trigger to order parts from our suppliers. If all goes well, we will ship out by the middle of November for December delivery:

All does not always go well when it comes to manufacturing, but we have taken a couple of measures to improve the chances that our estimates are on the mark:

  • We overestimated the time quoted by our suppliers to produce and ship by 50-100%
  • Our current schedule has us ocean freighting parts from China, which takes roughly 45 days. If these parts are delayed, we can air freight them in 7-10 days. Although this costs more, it is a measure we would take to ensure on-time delivery.

    We need you, please help!

    We have been planning Hummingbird Duo for over a year and have done everything we can to create a successful product launch, but it can't happen without you. Please consider helping us with one or both of the following:
  • Fund us! We will use the funds collected via Kickstarter to fund initial inventory of the product and, if we reach our stretch goals, to improve the materials that come with Hummingbird. 
  • Tell everyone, especially educators! We need your help to get the word out. Convince anyone involved in education to take four minutes to watch our video! School budgets often preclude Kickstarter-style funding, so help schools out: consider gifting a Hummingbird kit to an educator whom you know could do awesome things with it!     

Risks and challenges

Hardware projects are notorious on Kickstarter for delaying their estimated ship dates. We have three advantages over most projects:

1. Our company has been producing and selling hardware for years; we have strong existing business relationships with manufacturers and suppliers.

2. We have built into our schedule months of time to deal with manufacturing/supply chain hiccups and crises. In other words, if nothing goes wrong, we might be shipping early!

3. We have already completed our FCC/CE compliance testing and have produced a test batch of 50 controllers!

That said, things often do go wrong, here are the weaker points in our supply chain:
• Hobby servos and gear motors historically have had 2-3 month lead times. We will be ordering these immediately following the Kickstarter, but there is the possibility that these parts will take even longer to arrive if our order volume is high. In order to avoid long lead times due to these parts, we have already stocked 4400 servos, and 3000 gear motors, which is roughly enough to produce 1000 standard and 500 deluxe kits.
• Chip shortages sometimes affect when the circuit board can be assembled: The ATMEGA32U4 chip, which is at the core of the Hummingbird controller, is occasionally unavailable for up to 8 weeks. If our Kickstarter seems likely to reach its goal (even before it has reached it), we will place an order for a batch of these.
• Finally, many of the kit parts are sourced from overseas, and although we have never had a customs or shipping delay, there’s always the possibility of such delays.

We plan to ship in December, but please be aware that for any of the above reasons this may not happen. If you plan to gift the kit for the holidays, be aware that there is a possibility that it will arrive late. If this is likely to occur, we promise to give months of advance notice so you may make other gifting arrangements. We promise to keep our backers up-to-date about the production process from initial orders to ship out: we will send updates about any unforeseen events within hours of us finding out about them . We are passionate about getting our product into the hands of as many people as possible, and, barring acts of god or nuclear war, we will be shipping Hummingbird Duo kits!

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter


  • The short answer: The Hummingbird Duo controller is Arduino compatible, so it can be programmed with the Arduino IDE. The original Hummingbird was an I/O board that needed to be plugged in over USB to a computer to run programs. Additionally, the Duo kits will include numerous improvements requested by teachers over the past two years: improved wiring, a couple of improved sensors, wheels for motors, the option for a well-package classroom kit, and more.

    The long answer:

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  • The Duo controller is a merger of the Hummingbird version one and an Arduino Leonardo. Therefore, you can treat it like an Arduino Leonardo with additional circuitry (essentially an integrated shield) that controls motors and servos, and simplifies wiring up sensors and LEDs. For the purposes of using additional shields, the Hummingbird Duo is compatible with any shield that works with an Arduino Leonardo.

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  • Very! Students and teachers have used our commercial kits for two years, and beta kits that were created as part of the CMU research project have been in use for three to four years. The components are fairly easy to remove from the craft robots that students build, though this is sometimes destructive to the craft side of the project. Components may, over time, get some glue or tape stuck to them, but this doesn’t really impact how they operate.

    Our conservative recommendation for classrooms: budget 10%/year of the original cost of the kits to purchase replacement parts. For example, if you buy a $1500 class kit, budget $150/year thereafter to buy replacement parts. In our experience, this will be more than sufficient to cover parts lost to breakage.

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  • Components from the version one kit will work with the Duo controller. The simplest upgrade is to pledge for a new Duo controller and to use the original kit parts. We are including a few components in the new premium kits that were not in the version one kit (like wheels for motors), but these can be purchased on an as-needed basis from us once we begin selling Hummingbird Duo kits and parts in January.

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  • Not currently, but by January 2015 we will be selling individual kit components.

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  • We've had requests for combining rewards. Kickstarter doesn't provide a great way to do this - we could offer 100 different reward levels, but it'd get confusing fast! Here's what we suggest (based on what other campaigns have done):

    Pick the types of rewards you want and how many you want of each. Pledge to fund us with that amount, but pick the $5 reward level. Send us a message letting us know that you've pledged $X, in exchange for these rewards. To give you a real example, if you want to receive 2 controllers, a T-shirt, and a base kit, you should contribute at least 2*$69 + $25 + $129 = $292.

    As long as early bird reward prices are available, feel free to use those in calculating how much to pledge.

    If you're ordering multiple rewards from outside the US, send us a message first before pledging and we'll get back to you with a shipping estimate.

    If you've already contributed, you can adjust your pledge and the requested reward at any time until project funding ends.

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  • Our suggestion to customers needing kits soon is to buy the current kits, and budget extra to buy Duo controllers to upgrade the kits on an as-needed basis (if/when the new Arduino features or capabilities are needed).

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    BACKER PAGE -- All backers at any level will be acknowledged on our backer page.

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    HUMMINGBIRD T-SHIRT -- featuring our gorgeous orange robot Hummingbird on blue background. All sizes available, kids and adults.

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    EARLY BIRD HUMMINGBIRD DUO CONTROLLER -- The early bird gets a Duo for less!

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    HUMMINGBIRD BASE KIT -- Grab the base kit at the Kickstarter price and start building! More than enough to get started: Two servos, six LEDs, two sensors, and a Duo controller.

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    HUMMINGBIRD PREMIUM KIT -- Grab a premium kit at our Kickstarter price. Build some serious robots: 4 servos, 2 gear motors, 2 vibration motors, 6 LEDs, 5 sensors, and Duo controller.

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    HUMMINGBIRD CLASSROOM KIT, $100 OFF RETAIL, This kit contains all the electronics you need for a class + curriculum, glossary, checkout sheet, and other helpful tools and materials! Just add 16-24 students and craft materials and watch the robots fly!

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    TRAINING WORKSHOP (US/CANADA ONLY). We will travel to your location and conduct a full day training workshop for up to 20 attendees. Each attendee will receive a base kit to keep which they will use on-site to build and program a robot.

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Funding period

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