Mirobot is a WiFi robotics kit that's designed to teach children about technology, programming and mathematics. It can be used at home or in the classroom.
Kickstarter is the perfect place to develop products. A year ago I launched the pilot version of Mirobot with the explicit goal of finding people to test it and identify areas for improvement so that it would be ready for the mass market. Almost 1000 robots have gone out to people in nearly 50 different countries and the feedback has been invaluable. Mirobot is now much improved (see later for more details on how) and is ready for use by everyone, not just those with a more technical background. Despite the fact that the pilot version was just for testing, the response was still overwhelmingly positive:
Where better to launch the finished version of Mirobot than back where it all began, on Kickstarter? Backing Mirobot here will get you one of the first batch of robots, ahead of everyone else and will enable me to begin scaling out operations and start getting more robots into the hands of children.
Mirobot is a build-it-yourself WiFi robotics kit that draws. It's designed so that children can build it themselves, along the way learning about the mechanical design (and gaining an enormous sense of achievement), and then use it to draw things whilst learning about computing and maths. It's all open hardware and software (you can check it all out on GitHub) which means that it can be used how you want to use it.
Building Mirobot is simple, but it demonstrates to children the basic mechanical concepts that make robots work. Everything locks into place nice and securely and children get the amazing feeling of having actually built their own robot. Check out the time-lapse below to get an idea of how easy assembly is:
Harking back to the days of the BBC Microcomputer and the Turtle robots that were available to use with it, Mirobot can be used to draw simple shapes and is controlled through your web browser. Drawing shapes is a well-recognised way of engaging children with learning basic geometrical concepts. It's also a lot of fun and children can (and have!) spent hours making Mirobot make art.
Learning about basic robotic principles is a great way of extending the learning from Mirobot beyond just drawing shapes. Mirobot has a couple of simple touch switches built in to detect collisions - these are great because they're easily understandable by children. It will also ship with an add-on which will enable it to follow lines. It can make simple (not too loud, teachers!) sounds too. It's all based on the Arduino (an easy to use electronics board) so if you have a hankering to add some extra capabilities you can.
One of my favourite features that has been developed during the last year is Mirobot Apps. This is a collection of web-based applications that you can use to control your Mirobot in different ways, directly from the website. You can take a look at them now and have a play even without a Mirobot to control over at http://apps.mirobot.io
Snap! - use a web-based visual programming language (almost identical to Scratch) to control your Mirobot. You can interact directly with the sensors and best of all it will work on a tablet (unlike Scratch)
Remote Control - also great for learning about how to draw shapes, but also just good fun being able to move it around
Blockly - another block-based programming language that's a bit simpler the Snap! Good for getting started
Mirobot UI - this is the default app that comes on-board every Mirobot and is a simple block based way of programming Mirobot
I spent a lot of time optimising the way that the first version of Mirobot was packaged and it was very well received. This isn't just a box of loose parts; everything slots together in a way that makes sense and protects it in transit. Take a look at the first version as an example to see how the MDF parts are layered up in pop-out panels and how all of the components sit snugly within them:
With this version I'll also be adding a secondary layer of packaging so that if you buy it as a gift you don't end up destroying the outer layer.
Mirobot ties in to a number of curriculum areas in a way that allows teachers to use one consistent teaching aid across them. Use Mirobot for learning about Design & Technology and build your understanding of how simple mechanisms work. Extend your learning by using your own laser cutter or 3d printer to extend and customise Mirobot. Learn about Computing by using the numerous programming apps that enable students to take computing into the real world by programming Mirobot. Learn about Mathematics by telling Mirobot how to draw geometrical shapes and building more complex programs that perform calculations. A number of organisations around the world have already started using Mirobot in their educational workshops and it has been well received.
There were several things that needed improving in the pilot version which I felt were blocking it being used fully in schools. The version that is launching now has all of these issues ironed out and some great new ones added:
- No big antenna, which was fragile and hard to fit
- Much easier assembly - less fiddly and can be done by someone with just two hands :-)
- No pegs - these often popped out and got lost. They were also hard for children to use
- Tidier wiring - once you got the first version loaded up with all of the add ons there were wires everywhere - no longer!
- Easier upgrades - all automatically pulled down from the internet and less chance of failure
- Improved WiFi - using the fantastically hackable ESP8266 WiFi module, the WiFi can now be customised to do exactly what I want it to do and is a lot more reliable. It's also easier to add new functionality because you can reprogram it if you want to.
- Integrated add-ons - most of the add-ons have been brought on to the main board and there are no trailing wires any more. All kits come with them because it's better that way.
- It comes pre-soldered which will cut out a lot of the issues that the previous generation had.
- Controlled via an Arduino Pro Mini compatible module
- WiFi via the developer friendly ESP8266 module (ESP-01)
- Takes 4xAA Batteries
- It can draw shapes and move its pen up and down
- Programmable through the browser
- Built in web server to run the software (no software needs installing)
- Controllable via JSON over WebSockets (and raw sockets)
- Small on-board speaker
- Built-in collision detection sensors
- Line following add-on included
- No soldering required
- Fully open source
This isn't the kind of Kickstarter with a myriad of different options to buy. The main package is a standard Mirobot kit which comes with everything you need to get Mirobot built and running (except the batteries and a pen). You can pay a bit extra to get yours earlier than everyone else or if you get in quick you'll get it at a special price!
If you're running an activity at a school or other workshop, you can buy a pack of 10 at a discounted price. Alternatively, if you're looking to distribute Mirobot via your own store then there's an option for that too.
Here's how the customised option works; I'll send you a template for the two wheel covers which you can print out and then draw on (or keep it all digital, it's up to you). You then scan the drawing in and send it back and I'll etch your design on to the wheel covers. What you draw is up to you! Previously I've had children name the robot (e.g. "Euan's Mirobot") but you can draw whatever you want on there. Sound good?
It's always annoying to find a great project to back and then getting crazy charges pushed on top of the price. That's why I'm going to ship products to the USA from within the country so that there are no additional customs duties to pay and the price you pay here includes everything.
If you're based in the EU, then I'll also be shipping batches from the UK which means the same for you. No extra charges!
For other countries, I'm afraid the usual rules apply and you'll still need to pay any charges as usual.
Risks and challenges
Having already delivered the first version of Mirobot I understand the vast majority of the risks involved in bringing a product like this to market. I've done the research, lined up the suppliers and am ready to roll.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (27 days)