Multiplo was developed by teachers for teachers. I came across it via their kickstarter crowdfunding campaign and liked what I saw. The philosophy is simple enough, produce an integrated, but flexible model for a wide range classroom robotics projects which is accessible to a wide range of students through a visual programming environment.
It’s open source. To me, that’s a great plus, as it means that you can make additional custom parts if/when the need arises. To find copies of the documentation, construction guides and a helpful forum, you can visit the multiplo website.
The kit I ordered uses a custom, modified Arduino, with a power management module added to enable the motors to run from the same board with little extra power. In theory, you could use the mechanical parts with your own electronic components and an Arduino.
The kit also comes with Minibloq – a visual programming tool, similar in philosophy to Scratch, but with more of a learning curve. My robotics club started with the octagonal robot design, adapting it to support a papier mache shell; and wrote the code to create a photophobic penguin.
The robot waddled about, moving away from lit areas, seeking somewhere dark to hide. Putting it in the school library, it moved into the computer lab, where we had switched the lights off, and sought refuge in the shadows under the table there…
So, my Makeblock kit arrived, I collected it from my local post office on the day after my birthday. I downloaded the list of parts and the Arduino libraries from the Makeblock website and tested it. The next day, I built a simple robot in under half an hour.
So, what is Makeblock?
It’s an open source hardware platform for robotics. It also has a custom shield for easily adding sensors, motors and other devices to it. In theory, it should also integrate with Lego. I’ll let you know how that works out later.
I obtained mine through Makeblock’s kickstarter project. There are a few European suppliers who will stock different sets, or, in theory, you could download the plans and make your own.
The hardware is aluminium (that’s aluminum for our American readers), with a cleverly thought out system of holes and grooves to hold things securely in place.
The kit I received also includes two motors and an IR sensor with a remote control (you can see where this is going). In addition to that, there were also an Arduino and a custom shield with colour-coded sockets for different devices to be connected via RJ11 cables.
The libraries come with sample code, so it’s easy enough to adapt them to make your own custom sketches. Plugging the Arduino with its custom shield in to S4A to make a Scratch-based tethered robot would require significant additional work – . However, as a basis for construction projects using your own kit, it has potential.
Earlier in the school year, I came across two exciting kickstarter projects.
If you’ve never come across crowdfunding before, it’s well worth browsing through both kickstarter and indiegogo to get a feel for the range of projects and the level of enthusiasm of both the starters and backers. I’ll do a separate post on the topic of crowdfunding later.
Both the projects offered a low-cost, affordable route into Arduino-based robotics development that teachers might want to investigate. What grabbed my attention however, was that both projects were also open source. In other words, if you find you’re short of a part, you can download the plans and quickly fabricate a replacement. No need to worry about license fees or buying a much larger expansion kit. If you need to, you can modify the original file and print/burn your own custom parts; share your ideas over the internet and not worry about an angry solicitor’s letter dropping through your letterbox.
That, to me is far more revolutionary than designing a gun.
The two products were Multiplo and Makeblock. Each one deserves a post in its own right. Both have their fair share of advantages and disadvantages.
I’ll have a set of each out on display for teachers to play with at Scratch in Control on May 18. If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to Lego as a robotics platform that integrates with Arduino, come along and experiment!
One of the topics we’ll be doing a short case study on at Scratch in Control is the place of coding as a problem solving tool in Gifted and Talented provision. To summarise the approach we’ve used successfully: where appropriate, allow for a coded option to stretch G/T students. If you want to know more, either join us at our Scratch Day event in Prague, or buy us lunch…
Today, we’ve had a G/T curriculum enrichment day for Junior High (KS3) students. Many of them already have some Scratch experience, but not so much familiarity with control technology. With only an hour, projects needed to be simple I decided that the best approach would be to offer three differentiated challenges.
Level 1: His Master’s Voice
I showed the group a script for a voice activated robot on the screen, by varying the loudness and timing of my commands, it (usually) performed as expected, spinning, jumping and dancing when ordered to. We discussed possible improvements and refinements that they could make if they were to take on this challenge.
Level 2: Make Yourself a Cyborg
I then showed the group my simple Robot of Truth controller, connected to a Makey-Makey. We discussed different user-interfaces that they could draw with a 2B pencil. Some of them had existing projects that they wanted to enhance by making their own custom controllers.
Level 3: Activate Skynet!
A Makey-Makey will let you easily make almost anything into a button for Scratch, but if you want more options involving both input and output , S4A with an Arduino make a great combination. I set up a simple breadboarded circuit including a light sensor and a DC motor; showing how just a few blocks of code would enable you to use the LDR as a simple proximity sensor to set off the motor. We discussed some possible projects, and I had a couple of students prototyping a contactless game controller and a Rube Goldberg burglar alarm.
In short, it was a very fruitful afternoon spent with two groups of creative and enthusiastic students.