Every educational technology conference that I have ever been to has an exhibit hall. We often see the same vendors at several conferences. Sometimes we have the privilege of seeing something new, and the AETC conference was where we stumbled upon Birdbrain Technologies and repurposed Pop Tart boxes.
I know, you are probably wondering how Pop Tarts and robots go together. Give me a minute. We stopped when we saw the boxes moving. Upon further investigation, we learned that the boxes (as well as other repurposed things such as toilet paper rolls) were attached to various servos and motors to make them move.
My first thought was, “Eh, neat.” Then I wandered the hall with the box robots fermenting in the brain. I then made my way back to the booth and took a closer look. It turned out that there was much more to making these robots go than meets the eye.
We talked with the vendor at the booth, and decided we had to give one of these kits a try. We got in touch with Birdbrain Technologies, and we were offered a loaner kit to try out. This review is based on our experiences using this kit.
The kit arrived in the summer, and with no classroom full of kids around to play with it, I resisted the urge to plow into it. I had already made the decision that I wanted students to attempt to use this kit from start to finish, with me acting as a guide. I wanted to see if they were able to figure it out and make it go with minimal intervention on my part.
On our second coding club meeting of the year, we broke out the kit. I played a couple of the videos to introduce the kit to them, handed it over, and told them to go forth and create. I had several boxes of various sizes saved up, as well as other materials such as duct tape, hot glue, etc.
The kids decided to make a robot that has a basic “how-to” on the Birdbrain website. You can see that HERE.
They got started and constructed most of the parts. I did what little cutting I did not feel comfortable having them do, but other than that, they did the work. They learned how to connect sensors, servos, and motors to the board and made the connections. Again, I watched them, answering direct questions when asked, but encouraging them to troubleshoot as a group and figure things out.
At the second coding club meeting, the crew had enough of the robot constructed they wanted to run a test or two and make sure they were on target. I figured this to be a good idea and let it fly. They used the web interface to program their robot, and found out that absolutely nothing worked…. at all… zip.
Initially, they were disheartened, then the problem solving kicked in. They decided that they should double check to be sure the connections to the board were solid. When they began the building of the robot, they divided the work, so they wanted to check behind each other to ensure it was correct. After several minutes of checking, they found that the servos were not connected to the right spots. They also discovered that they were using the wrong Snap tile to make the LEDs light up. They quickly decided they let their excitement get to them and the group got sloppy.
They fixed their issues, and were quickly rewarded with moving servos and LEDs that actually lit up. Smiles were abundant.
Now, the question remains… is the Hummingbird Robotics Kit worth the investment? I spent some time reflecting on the various steps our kids went through to make the robot work.
- They had to actually construct the body using repurposed materials
- They had to learn how to connect the leads to the board
- They learned to trouble shoot and problem solve when multiple things don’t work.
- They had to plan where and how to mount components.
- They had to learn to program the robot to perform the task they desired.
Overall, I would say that is an impressive list.
We found the components of the kit to be versatile and tough. If they don’t break in the hands of 11-13 year olds, they are probably good to go for your kids. The connections to the mother board were a bit complicated for the kids to figure out, but once they had it, it was a simple process.
The kit includes enough parts to make several varieties of robots, so your imagination is the limit.
So, is it worth the investment? Absolutely. In fact, it is such a great kit I wrote a grant to obtain a small classroom kit. At $850, it is not cheap, but it is absolutely worth every penny. We made our robot using a single robot kit. The small classroom kit will allow us to create multiple robots at one time. I was informed two days ago that our grant, through our school district’s endowment fund, was granted. We can’t wait to get out full kit soon, as I am scheduled to send back the trial kit in the very near future.
For more information about the Hummingbird Robot Kit, visit their website at www.birdbraintechnologies.com