Robots are intimidating, and starting from scratch with them is hard, no matter what age you are. You usually have to learn both hardware and software at the same time to get a robot to do anything cool, and for people without a background in either of these things, surmounting that initial learning curve can be scary. BirdBrain Technologies, a spinoff from Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, has just released a new DIY kit called Hummingbird that promises to make building a robot as easy (and affordable) as possible.
As you'd expect, the Hummingbird kit involves both a hardware component and a software component. Let's take a look at the hardware first:
We really like the fact that everything's included here, with a clearly marked board and color coded wiring. It's also nifty that the wires just snap in and out, no soldering required, although (to be honest) soldering is not that hard and building simple robots is a great excuse to learn how. But you know, for kids (or clumsy adults), soldering might not always be the safest way to go.
On the software side, the kit comes with a Java-based drag-and-drop visual programming interface that doesn't require any previous experience at all, and anyone with a passing obsession with their iPhone should be able to get it working in no time. There's a demo video here.
Now, although this is called a "kit," it's not like there's instructions that tell you what to build. It's the best kind of robot kit: the kind where you use your imagination and some creativity to build a robot of your very own. You might need some additional structural components (like cardboard), but beyond that, all it takes is a good idea to make whatever you want, which (in essence) is what's so great about robots in general. Take a kit like this, come up with an idea, and make it real. Here's just one example of what you can do:
The Hummingbird kit is intended for kids of ages 10 and up, although it's not a bad way for people of any age to get familiar with getting hardware and software to work together. At $199 each, it might be a little more realistic to see the kit become part of an educational curriculum as opposed to something that kids will be able to buy for themselves, but if you've got a budding roboticist in your family who you'd like to foster, we'd say that this would be a pretty good investment.