Every Kid Needs One of These DIY Robotics Kits

For just $200, this kit from a CMU spinoff company is a great way for total beginners to get started building robots

2 min read
Every Kid Needs One of These DIY Robotics Kits

Hummingbird Robot Kit

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.

[ Hummingbird Kit ] via [ CMU ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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