About this project
Once this Kickstarter has ended, visit http://mirobot.io for the latest Mirobot news
I need your help to get Mirobot into the hands of as many children as possible. These might be your own children, students that you teach or the children of a friend. Your feedback will be used to make the whole system more robust and reliable and will help me understand which problems to solve to increase adoption.
Mirobot is a small, WiFi robotics kit that children can build themselves and then use to learn about technology, engineering and programming. It's fun to build and easy to start programming it to draw shapes.
The chassis is laser cut and snaps together quite easily. It's evolved over quite a few iterations now and I'm confident that it works. it's robust, but also quite simple. Kids can understand how it works and what it does.
There's no slick plastic casing because I think children are more interested in things when they can see what's going on inside. With Mirobot, the mechanisms are all easily visible - it's designed to remove the mystery and help understanding.
There have been a lot of iterations of the PCB to make sure it's easy for children (and adults!) to solder. Check out the blog post about this if you're interested. It comes with all of the parts you need to make sure it works. If you're not comfortable soldering, you can buy it in a pre-soldered version so you just snap everything together.
Once you've put Mirobot together, it's time to start it drawing. One of the nice features of Mirobot is that all of the tools you need to start programming are already there on-board for you to use.
All you need to do is make it join your WiFi network (or join its access point if you don't have one accessible) and then you can browse to its on-board web page that lets you use a Scratch-like visual programming tool.
There are lots of ways of programming Mirobot. The easiest is to use the simple web-based GUI to set up the commands you want it to run - this is a lot like the original LOGO programming, but it's drag and drop. Once you graduate from this, you can move on to programming it more directly using a programming language.
Mirobot is a completely open robotics platform - all of the code and designs are open-source so you can modify them to make it do exactly what you want. One of the big benefits of this is that as people make it do new and interesting things, they can be shared with the community to everyone's benefit.
If you want to experiment with the Arduino then you can easily reprogram Mirobot with your own custom code. Want to add some sensors and make it sentient? There's an expansion port designed for just that.
The main Mirobot user is children. It can be used with a wide range of ages, depending on the level of supervision. I've soldered and built one with my 5 year old daughter, but older children would require less supervision. Building your own robot is hugely satisfying and keeps children much more engaged in programming it.
Learning about technology can be just as rewarding for an adult, especially if you do it together with a child. All of the learning points in Mirobot are just as relevant for adults.
One of the areas I'm most excited about Mirobot being used is in schools. Robots have been used in schools since I was a child and they make a great multipurpose educational tool. There are lots of learning opportunities with Mirobot, including:
- Design and Technology: assembling the chassis and soldering the PCB. Customising the chassis and laser cutting new parts.
- Mathematics: drawing geometric shapes is a fun way of learning about basic maths and trigonometry.
I will be producing education support materials as part of the production of Mirobot. Graham Pirt is a very experienced education specialist (who also helped develop robots for schools using me as a test subject 30 years ago) who brings a high level of understanding of how robots can be used in a classroom setting to the project. He will be heavily involved in developing the learning support materials for Mirobot.
Mirobot has been designed with a few key aims:
- to be very low cost so that as many people as possible can get access to it
- to be easy to assemble so that children can do it
- to be easy to program so that there are lots of ways to learn from using it
- to be easy to modify, because that's when things get really fun
Mirobot has been a long time in the making. I've been working consistently on Mirobot for coming up on a year now and it has gone through a number of evolutionary steps to get to the point where it is today. I wanted to get all of the wrinkles ironed out of the system before I decided to try and ramp up any kind of volume and that's the point I'm at now.
I've gradually modified the design to use readily available components and to eliminate as many of the parts as possible. The entire chassis can be cut out of a 300mm x 300mm sheet of MDF and only requires 2 screws to assemble.
The idea behind the timeline is to get the first batch out quickly to the early adopters so that any issues can be found and fixed before shipping out the finished products to the rest of the backers. Once they've shipped I'm counting on you to give feedback about how Mirobot worked so that I can improve things before pushing more out to a larger audience.
My name is Ben Pirt. I've been working in technology for over 15 years, developing both hardware and software. I've got two kids that I love introducing to new and interesting things, which is where this project came from. On a visit to the London Science Museum (If you're in London, it's a must-visit!) with my family I came across one of the original BBC Turtles in an exhibition and was reminded of the times I spent using these robots as a child.
I had the realisation that the massive progress in technology since that time (particularly with open platforms like the Arduino) meant that it should now be possible to build one of these using computer manufacturing and open hardware.
When I was using the original Turtle it was a complex and very expensive piece of equipment and you were very lucky if there was even one per school. My vision is to help bring robotics back into mainstream education as a tool for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning. Recently there has been a grass roots resurgence around turning IT education back into the exciting learning that it used to be. Organisations like Code Club, Young Rewired State and others are doing great work pushing this agenda forward and (particularly in the UK and US) the curriculum is beginning to be changed to adapt to this.
My goal is to build a company around products that can be made and used by children to learn about technology. My vision is that these products should be very different from the current crop of ICT learning tools used in schools - they should feel less like toys and be more understandable.
This initial phase of development will enable me to get valuable feedback and real user testing so that I can make sure that what I build for schools will be suitable.
For the geeks like me who want to know what's inside, here's a bit more detail to satisfy that need:
- Arduino compatible
- Open source everything!
- WiFi module that allows either you to join its access point (yes the robot is a WiFi access point!) or to configure it to join yours
- Battery powered with AA batteries
- 2 Stepper motors for control
- Open WebSocket or raw socket JSON-based command protocol
- Easily reprogrammable
- All unused pins brought out to an easily accessible header
- Uses the standard external USB programming connector
After hitting the target so quickly, I thought some stretch goals might be in order:
- £15,000 A collision detection sensor to make Mirobot more independent
- £20,000 Line following add-on - maybe it could follow its own lines!
- £25,000 Sound add-on - a small speaker to give Mirobot a voice
Credits: Thanks to Josh Woodward for the video music
Risks and challenges
I've done as much as I can to de-risk this project before getting to Kickstarter, for example I know that the design works, I've built most of the software and I've tried to use easy-to-find components wherever possible. However, there are always risks in any hardware project;
* If the WiFI module becomes hard to source I would have to re-work a lot of the software as well as probably pay extra for a different module (the current module is very cost-effective). I am in contact with the manufacturer and they have assured me they can supply tens of thousands per month.
* If the stepper motors become hard to source I would have to re-work the chassis design. However, I've chosen motors that are commonly used in other products so supply shouldn't be an issue. If it was I might have to have a new batch made in China which might delay delivery.
Order fulfilment is likely to be the most challenging part of this project, but I have the physical space to handle large numbers of units and am able to pull in additional help should it become necessary. I'm happy to ship things internationally but this might end up becoming quite a time sink and I'm in conversations about having US representation if there are a large number of orders from there. I'll need to design the packaging so that it is optimised for easy, low-cost shipping whilst still being robust enough to withstand the journey.
Whilst designing the robot is the main part of the project, it's essential for it to be supported with high quality educational materials so that parents and teachers know how to get the most out of it. I can't assume that everyone is already a hacker and need to make sure I support the educators too. I have pulled in expert help in this area to ensure it doesn't get overlooked.
I am aware that there is a challenge around adoption due to the soldering aspect of the kit. I think that soldering is a good skill to learn and my 5 year old daughter enjoyed doing it. If there's greater adoption of the ready-made version then I might have to redesign an optimised board for that.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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