The Creative Science Foundation is pleased to announce the launch of their new open-source maker-activity for education and research that we are calling Creative-Robotix. Making things can be useful, entertaining, and educational.
Creative-Robotix can be used by teachers, parents, children, adults, in groups or as individuals to address core STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Maths) learning and making activities in a fun, hands-on, social and interactive way. Our open-source platform can be used by anyone from 7 years up who are interested in learning more about technology. The tasks are carefully designed to fit the abilities of all ages, ranging from simple to more complex assembly, depending on your age, knowledge and guidance available.
Introducing the Creative Robotix Platform
Robots are forecast by many people to be the next major market for technology, following the smart phone. For those of you that are interested learning more about this technology and acquiring practical hands-on knowledge we have created a family of versatile robot building platforms that form an educational environment which can be customised in numerous ways ranging from designing the robot’s skin (i.e. giving the robot the appearance you want) through to designing your own software or hardware (giving the robot the functionality you want). The Creative Robotix platforms are a fully customizable, with body parts that can be 3D printed, and constructed for less than £30 (UK pounds sterling).
Meet The Robots
While you can design and print your own robot bodies (including arms and heads) we provide two pre-designed base versions of our platform called Robee and Tobee, to get you started. Tobee is a smaller, simpler (just the basics) making it quick and easy to assemble. Robee is larger and, as such, makes it possible to fit a greater range of sensors and actuators. To give you an idea of how our platforms can be customised we have created Timee a customised skin for our Robee platform.
Tobee is built from cheap off the shelf and readily available parts and provides a fun way to explore the exciting possibilities of owning your own personal robotic pal. By building a robot from basic parts you will learn about robotics, electronics, computing, 3D printing and modelling. While assembling the robot, you will be introduced to the basics in all these skills; you can chose to focus on a particular area by modifying any aspects of the design. In this way you control your own learning. For those of you that prefer to do these things as part of a class, the Creative Robotix team provides supporting training workshops and vacation camps (see section entitle ‘Workshops’, further down).
Robee is a slightly more sophisticated form of Tobee, being slightly taller, with a head, body, arms that can be customized (which , introduces a whole new line of fun, in addition to learning about the technology). In addition, it’s slightly taller frame means it can carry more sensors and electronic/mechanical capabilities you can design and customise.
Timee is a customized skin applied to our Robee base platform. To generate this skin we applied a creative processes known as Micro Science Fiction Prototyping. To give you an idea how this works we have documented the steps in an instructable (see ‘Useful Links’ at end of this page). You can follow these steps to create your very own customised skins. While we produced the Timee design with 3D printing you may want to consider alternative materials for you own design which a readily available and work well in a classroom setting. We’ve found thick cardboard and foam board to be very suitable. To help you facilitate the creative process we have put together a micro-SFP classroom resource which can be used to capture ideas (see ‘Useful Links’, towards end of this page).
For those of you that do not have access to 3D printing or the time to source the individual electronic components you can buy the entire kits from us from £44.99 (Tobee) and £49.99 (Robee).
Picture shows the Creative Robotix kits, as shipped
CSf’s Creative Robotix group run a number of workshops for both teachers (training them in the use of the kit) and students (as part of CSf’s Creativity and Technology Programmes). Below is a video and photograph of one such workshop for teachers and pupils held in the Discovery Centre, Bendigo, Australia.
Picture of Dr Simon Egerton holding Robee at a workshop for teachers and pupils held at a workshop the Discovery Centre (Bendigo, Australia). The picture shows Robee as being around the same size as a person’s hand.
In terms of hardware, the basic Creative Robotix platform comes in two versions. The first, Tobee, is a basic platform with 2 low-cost servo motors forming a differential drive, along with forward-facing proximity sensors, a set of 3 line-followers and a 9×9 LED matrix, powered by an Arduino-Nano. The more advanced version, Robee, features 5 low-cost servo motors (2 forming a differential drive) the others driving articulated arms and head, along with forward-facing proximity sensors , a set of 5 line-followers and a set of 3 LEDs, powered by an Arduino-Nano. Both platforms have Bluetooth connectivity, which enables remote operation via a Bluetooth enabled computer or mobile phone. This opens up endless possibilities for Human-Robot Interaction.
In terms of Software, both versions (Timee and Robee) come with a full development suite. First, for those that are happy to programme an Arduino-Nano directly, there is an easy to use API that interfaces with the hardware which gives you access to the platforms functionality. For those who prefer something simpler, we provide a Firmata driver, which allows the robot to be programmed in Scratch (Snap4Arduino), Python, Java, C, C++, and any other language with corresponding Firmata clients. Don’t worry about these technicalities, it’s all explained in simple jargon free-way in our instructions.
An interactive ‘Rock-Paper-Scissors’ game written in Snap for Tobee
Beyond programming the Arduino hardware, we plan to provide support to allow external devices such as mobile phones or the cloud to run or share code (more on that in the future). In that way you will literally be able to give your robot a ‘ Brain the Size of a Planet ‘ (a quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams).
Customising Your Robot
Because the potential designs are unbounded, the options are almost limitless. As mentioned above, Tobee and Robee are skinnable allowing you to create your own designs. Timee is an example of how this can be done to transform Robee with a new head, arms, hands and torso. Likewise, as you get more proficient with electronics and programming, you can customise functionality.
If we have fired your imagination and you want to start building your own robot, then the big question is HOW? Fortunately the Creative Robotix team have made this easy for you and we have deposited ‘step-by-step’ instructions (down to the last ‘nut & bolt‘) in our Instructables website (a website for makers). From here you can download the design files and instructions free of charge, using them as they are, or modifying them to create your own skin designs (see ‘Useful Links’ section below). All our designs are released open source licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share-Alike disclaimer, so you are free to use and modify them as you like but, naturally, we are very happy to hear about your builds, modifications and experiences, which we would like to share back into the growing Creative Robotix community.
A Community of Developers
When you make the decision to build a Creative Robotix based robot, you are not just choosing another maker project. Rather, you are also becoming part of a community of fellow robot builders; the Creative-Robotix community. This is a community where people share an interest in building robots, and harbour dreams about what wondrous things the future may have in store. Collaboration among developers is supported by blog entries, design files and code uploaded through the Creative-Robotix web pages.
Some of you are also part of Creative-Science activities where we use something called Science Fiction Prototyping to discuss visions that we hope might shape better futures. Others of you are more interested in the design aspects making new robot functionalities or appearances.
In all these activities something you will all share is being part of our community, one where we share ideas, designs, information and helping each other freely, since this is an open source venture.
A Community of Social Robots
Community doesn’t stop with the robot designers but extends into the robots themselves as, because your robot can be network-aware, that means that the robot you build can communicate with other Creative-Robotix robots. We do this through connections to the cloud, extending the notion of community and collaboration into the world of robots. Imagine a world where your robot was sharing, learning and collaborating with others, not just locally based robots, but ones across the globe! In keeping with a community spirit and cloud-of-things principles, we would hope that your robots would not just be stand-alone creatures but will be social robots, having names and using the Internet to communicate with each other.
Creative-Robotix Community Membership and Affiliations
Creative-Robotix wants to encourage synergy between people interested in supporting our goals by further developing our robot platforms and teaching materials and bringing these methods to as many children as possible. Thus, if you are interested in working with us, we would like to invite you to become an affiliated partner. An affiliated partner agrees to abide by our guiding principles and the principles of the Attribution-NonCommercial-Share-Alike Creative Commons license:
- Open Source & Design – making your designs available free of charge to the Creative–Robotix Community and not use them for commercial purposes.
- Compatibility – making your design useable by other Creative-Robotix users through maintaining compatibility of tools, materials and vision.
- Registration – Listing your designs on the Creative-Robotix website, together with links to the design source material, so the information is available to all our community.
The procedure is simple, you submit details about yourself, your school or your group along with details of your project to firstname.lastname@example.org (including links to the source materials) and, if it is relevant to our community, we will list it on the Creative-Robotix website. In return, you can endorse your project as being ‘An Affiliated Member of Creative-Robotix Community’ and join our movement, using our blog and getting early notification on community news (including coming developments). We aim for this to be a community-driven enterprise so your voices and contributions will be valued.
A Global Family
By joining the Creative-Robotix community, there is the potential for you to go beyond simply building a single robot for yourself but, rather, helping to create a growing community of human-friendly social robot’s, designed and shared by the community, evolving and improving with each contribution and iteration. Thus we encourage you to use our blog to share your questions, ideas and designs.
Finally, we wish you “Happy Imagining, Happy Creating & Happy Building !”
- How to build the Creative Robotix Robots; Robee (details on Tobee will be added soon)
- What are micro-SFPs (Micro Science Fiction Prototypes) and how to write them – http://www.creative-science.org/activities/microsfp/ (an example of an SFP used to create an earlier Creative-Robotix robot called Timee)
- Information about the Creative Science Foundation (originators of the ‘Creative Robotix‘ series of mobile robots) – http://www.creative-science.org/about/foundation/
Creative Robotix is led by Dr Simon Egerton, a world renowned roboticist who works at La Trobe University in Australia. Dr Egerton’s work inspired Intel to invent Science-Fiction Prototyping (SFP) as a way of driving product innovation forward in a more effective way. At the time, the work was being driven inside Intel by Brian David Johnson a futurist at the Intel Corporation. Intel’s work, was aimed at driving their product innovation process with one example being the development and deployment of future domestic robots (which Intel believed would be one of the next big markets for high-tech companies). As part this work, Johnson wrote a Science Fiction Prototype about a post-singularity humanoid robot , that possessed levels of artificial general intelligence that were comparable to people. In the original story, “Nebulous Mechanisms” , the robot designer was a computer scientist who went by the name of Dr Simon Egerton, a brilliant computer scientist who, as part of the story (SFP) gets involved in numerous adventures with the robots he had designed. All the stories were written to test some aspect of the commercial deployment of future humanoid robots which, as the world’s premiere manufacturer of integrated circuits (chips), Intel hoped a large percentage of such robots would include Intel chips which most people have come to know through Intel‘s well recognized branding ‘Intel Inside‘. As remarkable as this story is, an even more extraordinary facet of these Science Fiction Prototypes is that the lead character, Dr Simon Egerton is a real person, a computer scientist and a real-life robot designer who designed the Creative Robotix platforms presented in this web page! If you want to find out more about him, visit Simon’s web page where you will see that works in the College of Science, Health and Engineering at the Bendigo Campus of La Trobe University near Melbourne (Australia) leading the Technology Innovation Lab Research group. There is a saying that “from little acorns mighty oaks grow” and in a similar vein, this work started from a research paper (Using Multiple Personas in Service Robots to Improve Exploration Strategies When Mapping New Environments ) which led Brian Johnson (then working at Intel Labs) to write a series of SFPs about Dr Simon Egerton and his super intelligent robot. If you want to discover more about this, visit the history of the Creative Science Foundation website.