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Robots, Drawing, and Engineering: An Online Course's video poster

Online introduction to engineering course + sweet drawing robot arm kit. Starts Feb 2014, taking 100 students. engineering = creativity Read more

Cambridge, MA Robots
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pledged of $15,000 goal
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This project was successfully funded on December 22, 2013.

Online introduction to engineering course + sweet drawing robot arm kit. Starts Feb 2014, taking 100 students. engineering = creativity

Cambridge, MA Robots
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About this project

Hullo there!

We're two engineers from MIT who think engineering is freakin' awesome and want to share that excitement with you. We've built the class we wish we had in high school and want to deliver it online to reach a diverse and international audience.

We have spent the past few months building an online introduction to engineering course (for students in high school and up) combined with a drawing robot arm kit and are now looking for you to join us in February 2014. By the end of two months, you will be able to explain the engineering mindset, source your future projects online, read sensors and control motors using microcontrollers in order to build your own creations, and meet dozens of peers online.

This is an introduction to engineering course for students high-school aged and up. Prior programming/Arduino/electronics experience is not required.

UPDATE: Stretch goal reached with 7 hours to go! Yay! Servos or stickers for everyone! We're really stoked and amazed, thanks everyone. Additionally, as the kickstarter ends and we still have 10 spots or so, please head over to if you wish to join in the class and it's before the last week of February 2014 (when the class starts).

UPDATE: Funded! Our stretch goal is 20k, at which point we throw in extra stickers for everyone and an extra servo for course participants. Thanks so much everyone! Please keep spreading the word so we can get a full class of 100 students :)

Note: Some of our in-person participants in the video / pictures are younger than high school, but we recommend the minimum age for our online course to be high school because we want the experience to be inspiring and not frustrating.

What you get

Learn engineering, build a drawing robot arm (in the first hour!), apply engineering to build something you dreamed up. Focus on the learning instead of buying supplies or piecing together documentation from around the internet.

What we need

100 students! That way we can produce the kits in volume, and also have a reasonably vibrant group of students.



Make Magazine





Kit: 3 servos, 1 nano i/o shield, 1 microcontroller, 1 power supply, 2 potentiometers, several lasercut enclosure pieces, 1 3d printed pen-holder, lots of nuts bolts and screws, 1 sharpie.

Course: 2 months (1 month to learn engineering with the kit, 1 month to apply those skills / kit components to build your own creation).

1st month: Estimated 3 hours/week, 12 hours total. Starts in February 2014. The course content will all be released at once and you can go through it at your own pace. We'll hold office hours on google hangouts at least once a week, more often depending on demand. We are using the EdX software platform.

2nd month: Take apart the kit, build your own sweet robot creature with the components, show it off online and learn from each other.

Course outline: (in more detail here)

L1: Intro

  • Overview (maker movement)
  • Overview (CNC arm welding)
  • Simplify the problem (engineering design process)
  • Demo of robot arm drawing
  • Install software (Arduino)

L2: Quickstart: Build and program a robot arm

L3: Programming

L4: Making Things Move

L5: Sensors




What can I do with a robot arm?

You can get it to programmatically draw narwhals! (provisionally not taught in the course -- depends on who signs up. Involves a bit of trigonometry, Canny edge detection):

You can build copycat machines! (this is what you get to do in the first hour):

You can get it to draw whatever you draw on the screen with a bit of Processing! (provisionally not taught in the course -- depends on who signs up.)

(We'll release the source code for the interactive drawing and image processing when we get a chance, and we hope to run a course on it in the future -- or you can treat it as an exercise for the reader :])

Why? Based on real-life tests (teaching students in-person this summer) we decided to start the introductory class with simpler code. (No trigonometry required!) The code is roughly like so: Don't worry, we'll explain it all!

Why should I enroll [myself, my kid] in this course?

Okay, so making robot arm doodles isn't enough to convince you. Here are some more reasons:

1) Why study engineering? Good salary, build cool things, work on societal problems, shortage of people in STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics). We also want to show that engineering can be creative and empowering and fun. Yes, fun! See: for dancing six-legged robots!

2) Why take a class online? Your high school, like ours, may not have engineering classes. Or maybe they're all guys. We are creating the resources we wish we had in high school. Also, we hope that we can link people all around the world in our class.

3) Why not (OWI, Mindstorms, ...) kit? We tried to create a complete curriculum with technical rigor and immediate practical life skills in problem-solving. This means that you don't have to source all the parts yourselves, you don't need engineering-minded parents, and you have the structure of a course to help you get started. We also designed our kit with the intention that people would want to take it apart and build their own thing. We don't want students to build it and then throw it in a closet, but rather to get addicted to building things.

4) Why NarwhalEdu? We have experience assisting with classes at MIT and also running workshops with local students.

Why does your course not cost $50 / why is the course worth $199?

It's true that you could get three fully functional quadcopters for the cost of our course. This is because they produce tens of thousands of units. We just can't bring the cost down that far with 100 units. We also think $199 is a good deal for a two-month long course and drawing robot arm kit, and the parents we've talked to agree. We do care a lot about engineering education accessibility in terms of cost as well -- we just can't address that right off the bat. But with your support, in the future we can!

Why would I take two months to learn engineering? I don't even get a badge at the end or anything.

To make freakin' sweet things. Also to get jobs / internships / eternal salvation. (Okay, if everyone reallllly wants a badge, we may give them out :P)

Also, working on projects can help you get into MIT. It's a trend! See

Are we real people? Can we hunt you down if you don't deliver?

Yep! Cappie and I graduated from MIT in June 2013 in Mechanical Engineering. We come from Colorado and Georgia respectively. We work at the p.irateship, a co-working space in Somerville, MA. We are working full-time on this project.

Original low-quality picture of Cappie, Nadra (our narwhal plushie), and Nancy

Why do you like robot arms?


Sorry, I will stop now and leave the rest to another post :D

Will this really happen?

If we reach our goal, definitely! We've already built working robot arm kits and taught classes in person locally. Now we are re-creating the course online.

NJ demo-course in August. ~10 students of varying ages. Lessons we incorporated into our curriculum from this and our awesome HSSP students: move exciting things (building a working robot) to the beginning instead of building up to it, don't try to teach coding and inverse kinematics at the same time, longer isn't better -- students are investing time and taking a risk in taking your course, and a lot more!

What are we doing in the next three months?

Cranking away at making the course! We're also making one final revision of the robot to standardize all the screws. We'll probably also test the class out on some unsuspecting friends of ours. Oh, right, and if this succeeds we will be buying lots of robot parts to put into kits.

lasercutter kit production!

Is this just another robot kit like Lego NXT?

Nope! We don't want you to just build a sweet robot from kit pieces. We want you to know how to prototype and engineer as you would working at a university research job or just building things in real life, as much as possible.

Why wouldn't i just wait a year until the course is released for free?

You totally can! But by supporting us now, you can ensure that we'll still be in working on NarwhalEdu in a year, creating new and awesome classes and kits :)

What is your plan for world domination?

One robot per child! We want everyone to have access to the confidence and resources they need to get hooked on engineering and making things. This may mean designing other products for retail stores in the future, or building quadcopters if that turns out to be a better "hook" into engineering than drawing robots, or designing for the public school classroom.

Why aren't you selling 1000 kits?

This is part of our start small, release often method of designing. We want to make sure we can produce the kits in time and also be able to run the course online smoothly.

Open source?

Yep! The hardware-related files (CAD, BoM, C code) will be released by Feb. 1st, 2014. The course content will be released by Feb 1st, 2015.

pen holder CAD

What does the money go toward?

Producing the kits and paying our food and rent for the next six months. We could take engineering jobs earning lots of money, but we'd rather be doing something we care about passionately, and your support makes this possible. Also, extra money will help us develop future classes and kits.

some of the revisions we went through for this kit

Hands-on online? are you serious?

Yep! and we found out stanford's got actual researchers on this: (but registration has closed already).


That's the name of our company. And yes, narwhals are real!


NarwhalEdu Logo

We are NarwhalEdu: creating accessible engineering kits and curricula.

Questions still?

Comment or email us at

Thank you so much!

Risks and challenges

1) We may encounter supply-chain setbacks. our suppliers could rip us off and never mail anything to us. We've never actually tried to mass-produce or source things by ourselves before.
* We talk on a day-to-day basis to the founders of other kickstarters that have shipped their products on time to get their advice: oneTesla--also founded out of MITERS!, Hexy, publiclab--also founded out of the p.irateship.
* We are experienced in managing small supply chains from ordering parts for personal projects.
* We already have suppliers in mind and have quotes from them.
* We have produced ten kits in two days before (for our NJ course).

2) We have not successfully deployed edX yet and are not software engineers.
The edX development team is local and we are friends with a lot of software engineers. In the worst case, we can continue to host our course on Edge, the sandbox version of EdX.

In general, in quantity 100, we are confident we can apply caffeine, roll up our sleeves, and do things ourselves if needed: lasercut it locally at danger!awesome, buy off all the EMAX servos on ebay, throw a kit-assembling-packaging-shipping party, whatever it takes to deliver the course.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter


  • Our course will run from the last week of February to the last week of March, and the contest (build your own creation from the kit components) will run between the last week of March and the last week of April. The content is all pre-recorded and the course is self-paced, so if you are busy during this time, you are welcome to take part in the course at a later date (but the contest will be over). We don't plan on running the course "live" again and instead plan on creating new courses. The course content will be available publicly in February 2015 as well (a year after it goes live).

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    <(^_^<) We will ship you a sweet 11x17 inch poster we make about narwhals and drawing robots, a sticker, and thank you on our website.

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    Whoa! We will get you a robot kit with your name on it, access to the course, and a 3d printed narwhal we design that fits in your hand. We will also video conference you to say thanks.

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Funding period

- (30 days)