The Little Swarmbuddies that Could: Online Intro to Robotics
Your own swarmbots! Fun little robots that move with music and teach you creative engineering. A robot kit + online community & class.
UPDATE: We are relaunching shortly! Sign up for our mailing list at narwhaledu.com or try clicking this link which will activate when the new campaign is up: http://tiny.cc/swarm-relaunch
Thanks all for all the support!
--Nancy, Cappie, June, Will L, Will K, and Pablo
We're back! After our adventure with robot arms last December:
The Narwhal course was a great experience. With Nancy and Cappie's help, to get me over some bumps, I went from zero to making things move the way I want them to. Can't wait to go deeper. When is course two? --Karl S.
We've come to offer you even more creative robots in pursuit of our goal of getting diverse students interested in engineering. We've learned a lot from our first Kickstarter and realized that there just aren't enough robots for all the students out there. We've decided to stare that problem in the face and charge at it like a narwhal diving for arctic cod. So we came up with an accessible platform to allow you to tinker with your very own swarmbots so that you too can learn about creative engineering! Now we need your help to have students join our class, build a community, and be excited about engineering!
Multi-robot Formation Demo
(if you want more demos, but want gifs instead of a video, scroll to the bottom section of this page!)
- Intorobotics: Swarmbuddies: Real-world Robotics Kit with Collective Abilities
HackThings: The Little Swarmbuddies That Could: Robotics Course Emphasizes Creativity in Engineering
- Simplebotics: Kickstarter Robot Week: Swarmbuddies Are Cute Little Swarm Robots That Anyone Can Build
Researchers and professionals have been making sweet sweet robot formation demos:
You know you want some, too. The appeal of lots of robots, the synchrony of choreography, the emotion of dance -- all of these are now at your fingertips. These cute little guys are just like real ballet dancers, without the drama. They will follow your commands without question: no fighting over who gets the lead role, no complaints about long rehearsals, never having to go to the bathroom, and an RGB (red-green-blue) LED built in! Balanchine could only have dreamed of dancers like these.
We'll show you how to get started, and you can let your creativity flow. Only the greatest dancers today can incorporate live FFT (fast fourier transform) and beat detection into their routines, but not a single one of them emits electro-magnetic waves in the visible light spectrum. Yet all of these talents and more will be a part of your troupe.
The process is simple:
- Build your robots.
- Program your formations.
- Party all night long.
Robots are your dancing friends of the future. And they love to party.
Don't worry, we know that the robot enthusiast inside you isn't satisfied by dancing and photon-producing wonders of silicon fabrication technology alone. So we're going to teach you all about how it works. The magic of FFTs, the wonders of computer vision, the simple pleasure of making a robot scoot its butt across your floor, and more will all be put into an on-line class. We strongly believe in hands-on on-line learning and want you to get the most out of your wild, dancing Swarmbuddies.
Based on what we learned from our last class, we're going to start out with a forum for people to share what they are doing with their robots and for us to help people implement their ideas. After we see exactly what everyone wants/needs to learn, we'll make lesson plans for a class to be run in March of next year (2015). Knowledge and dancing, it's gonna be a blast! That being said, having some basic background will be very helpful. You should, for instance, know what a for loop is. Just follow through on http://www.learnpython.org/ and you should be all set!
- If you're an artist or choreographer, you can program Swarmbuddy robot dances to sync with music.
- If you're a musician, you can program these to react to different frequencies (e.g. low notes are blue and high notes are red) and give your performances a visual flair.
- If you're a teacher, you can buy sets of these Swarmbuddies and have students play capture the flag or tic tac toe with these robots and inspire them to learn programming by taking our class.
- If you're performance artist, you can program Swarmbuddies to react to the noises or movement you make (using a microphone or webcam).
- If you're a tinkerer or hobbyist, you can take our class and program these robots to do interesting computer vision-based centralized processing swarm formations.
- If you're hosting a dance party, you could have these hanging from the ceiling blinking along to the music.
- If you're a parent, you could buy these as an gift for your child's birthday and encourage her to take our class and see how she is an engineer!
- If you're a multirotor enthusiast, you could strap a swarmbuddy to your copter and take it for a spin at dusk for some sweet bluetooth/smartphone-controlled visuals
WHAT YOU GET - The Robot
Each Swarmbuddy is a bundle of Bluetooth Low Energy and RGB LED joy. The tentative finished product specs (depending on the volume of orders) are:
- The nRF51822 bluetooth low energy chip, which has an embedded ARM Cortex M0 microprocessor
- Two DC gearmotors
- 500 mAh 3.7v lithium polymer battery
- Built-in USB recharging circuit, using a microusb cable (cable not included--they're the standard smartphone cables)
- 3d-printed ABS diffusing dome/case
- RGB LED
- Two IR LEDs for nighttime tracking (for those sweet robot performances you want to choreograph!)
- Lasercut acrylic wheels
They will require minimal assembly (10 minutes with a screwdriver and super glue per robot) (screwdriver and superglue not included).
We also are providing an optional bundle if your laptop doesn't have bluetooth low energy support, you don't have an external webcam, or you want a frustration-free experience. It includes:
- External USB webcam with the IR filter removed (allows for nighttime tracking)
- Bluetooth low energy CSR 4.0 dongle
- A visible light filter (a piece of exposed blank film)
Note: In the daytime, you can track the robots with any external USB webcam by taping a piece of paper with a red dot and a green dot on top of the robot. For nighttime tracking, we use two infrared LEDs forming an elliptical blob, along with an external camera with the IR filter removed so that infrared (IR) light registers better on the camera. A floppy disk or exposed blank film is used to block visible light and pass IR light when working in low-light instead of complete darkness.
Alternatives to the Optional Bundle
The CSR 4.0 Bluetooth dongle and external USB webcams are widely available commercially. You can find them on amazon, ebay, or at local electronics stores. Most external USB webcams can be taken apart and their infrared filter removed. A piece of floppy disk or exposed blank film serves well as a visible light filter that passes IR.
We offer a selection of caps, currently either a penguin, turtle, or narwhal. They are thin and come in plain white to allow the RGB light to diffuse from under them, but feel free to decorate them, especially if you are only using the caps for daytime use!
If you're interested in a different animal or design (a lotus flower?) let us know!
If you're wondering, the specifications of the current prototype are different in these ways:
- Atmega328P programmed over ICSP using the Arduino IDE (we plan on dropping Arduino compatibility for cost reasons and because we want to focus on the higher-level software instead of the firmware for our course, please let us know if you would like otherwise)
- 500 mAh 2s lipo, charged with an external charger
- Feetech FS90R servos
- Adafruit nRF8001 breakout
WHAT YOU GET - The Software
We have written control software in multiple platforms and languages to give you an idea of the versatility of this robot. Basic commands such as going forward, turning, or changing colors works out of the box with:
- Android app, controls up to three robots per phone
- iOS app, controls up to three robots per phone
- Ubuntu 14.04 with bluez 5.20, using python and processing
- Windows 8 (work-in-progress)
If you have processing, here is some sample code you can run to see our prototype desktop-based GUI:
Our code structure makes it very simple to write different applications for the robots. If you are wondering, you simply connect to a socket and write a servo or RGB command like so:
import processing.net.*; Client myClient;
outputs = "2,20,90,90";
Where the command structure is: $botnumber, 20, left_servo, right_servo OR: $botnumber, 10, redvalue, greenvalue, bluevalue
More complicated computer vision / tracking of multiple robots using Swistrack works out of the box with
- Ubuntu 14.04 with bluez 5.20
- Windows 8 (work-in-progress)
We may set stretch goals, depending on interest, for getting the OpenCV-based tracking software working on Android and iOS using the smartphone camera.
Just like for our last product, we will release all files as open-source hardware and software. https://github.com/NarwhalEdu/
WHAT YOU GET - The Course
Every reward that includes a Swarmbuddy includes access to our course. The exact course content will depend on what you all would like to learn about. One possible course is outlined below:
- Prerequisite: Basic python programming experience, such as from working through this tutorial
- Week 1: Learn about processing and microphone input visualization
- Week 2: Learn about Fast Fourier Transforms and beat detection
- Week 3: Learn about computer vision and Swistrack
- Week 4: Learn about choreographing your own robot dance
- Weeks 5 to 8: Create your own awesome demo with Swarmbuddies!
Testimonials from our last course:
The course given by Narwhal edu was really useful and fun to go through; it offered easy-to-follow instructions and tips for any problems people were facing with their setups, and the online community created around the course was very encouraging and helpful. Best of all, it exposed me to some new things about programming that I can use easily outside of the course. I hope this program continues and expands to include all sorts of great introductions to interesting robotics. --Owen G.
WHY WE NEED YOU!
All of you are the wonderful people who will help us get these robots out into the world! The reason why we are building so many of these is to bring the cost down so more students can access the course and have it be affordable to them (and to us!). We need your help to push our prototype to a finished product. Our biggest costs will be a PCB redesign and tooling for the diffuser dome/case. After that, we just need to make enough Swarmbuddies to take advantage of economies of scale so you can have lots of miniature new friends.
$70k -- Backers' choice of another custom cap design!
$150k -- Allows us to hire another full-time engineer and ship in time for Christmas!
Dawn of time --> Robots Invented --> Now
- August/September 2014 -- Finished Prototype (new PCB, injection molded sample)
- September/October 2014-- Smooth Out Wrinkles in Supply Chain
- Create Lots of Fun Demos (while we wait for all of the pieces)
- December 2014 -- Ship kits in time for Christmas if we hit our stretch goal!
- February 2015 -- Ship Kits under normal schedule
- January 2015 -- Forum for Peer Learning / Making Everyone Happy
- February/March 2015 -- Online class released
Last December, we raised over $20,000 on kickstarter with the help of 188 backers for our first class, "Robots, Drawing, and Engineering: An Online Course." We shipped our kits on time to everyone in February, started the class in March, and finished the class at the end of April.
Here are some robots and drawings our students produced:
Nancy and Cappie are MIT Class of 2013 mechanical engineers and co-founders of NarwhalEdu.
Will Kalb and June Kim are current MIT undergraduates helping us out over the summer.
Will Long, Pablo Fiori, and Chris Aring are high school students hanging out with us over the summer making sweet apps, demos, and videos.
We've all been working throughout this summer to make sure that Swarmbuddies will be a success and are very excited to finish them up and get them into your hands!
THANKS to Erik Garrison, fellow member of our co-working space, for letting us use his "Whoola" track in our video.
DEMOS (click through for gif)
Multi-robot Formation Demo
Ubuntu 14.04 + Processing
Microphone input beat detection (code derived from instructables user terranlune)
Multi-robot shape formation: Triangle
Multi-robot shape formation: Rectangle
Course (images from last course, for the CopyCat drawing robot arm)
Risks and challenges
The biggest concern is supply chain setbacks. We have gained valuable lessons from our previous Kickstarter. This is at a much larger scale, but we already have suppliers in mind and our friends are pros at supply chains (oneTesla, Hexy, publiclabs) so we are confident we can handle any problems efficiently.
Another big challenge is that, since we are using Bluetooth Low Energy, on the desktop side we currently only support Ubuntu 14.04 and Windows 8. If enough people express interest and/or we reach our stretch goals we will work on providing Mac support.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)