As confirmed by a strong robot presence in our round-up of the best tech toys for kids this year, there's something captivating and fascinating about interacting with robots. But rather than just play with a factory-assembled robot like the mesmerizing MiP we got to control at IFA back in the September, many folks want to build and customize their own. The Brighton, UK-based Maker Club has launched a project developed for the home and educational market that combines a custom control chip, a mobile app, an online learning package and 3D printing.
Kids young and old can currently only dream about having the resources – and the money – available to create advanced mechanical pals like Honda's ASIMO, but it is still possible to build custom robots at home without breaking the bank. "Affordable electronic components and 3D printers, mean anyone can create things for tens of pounds rather than thousands," said Club CEO Simon Riley. "They just need to be led through the process."
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The Maker Club is looking forward to the day when folks will be printing their own personalized vacuum cleaners, educational toys and "special projects" and is hoping to add fuel to that future fire with a robot kit that comes with Arduino-based brains and an iOS/Android smartphone app package called the MakerConnect. The microcontroller and app allow control of the bot over Bluetooth, though home hackers can also use the system to for home automation systems and sensors. The team is also planning to leverage the power of a user's smartphone to connect the app to the cloud, meaning that it could be possible to remotely control bots or access user sensor data in other parts of the world.
The Club has designed its range with interchangeable components. Each bot comes ready to build straight from the box and the team has developed a library of Arduino code that will allow tinkerers to use the robots straight away, but builders are encouraged to expand, experiment and evolve the designs. Of course adventurous robo-scientists can design, 3D-print and program their own creations using custom electronics, step-by-step online tutorials and a game-like learning system developed by the Club.
The developers promise to provide the support needed to create and code dream projects, and roboticists will even be able to upload and sell bot designs to the Club's online portal. Folks who want to get in on the action, but don't own a desktop 3D printer can relax, as the Maker Club says it can print the necessary components and ship them out with the electronics needed for the build.
The Maker Club is raising funds for the project on Indiegogo, where backers can choose pre-printed kits (which all come with the MakerConnect microcontroller and app) or can design and print their own. A Grabber robotic arm is pitched at £39 (US$60) and a Carduino RC car kit at £59, for example, and will get you the electronics and 3D CAD files needed for home printing. If you don't plan to print the parts yourself, you'll need to add another £20 and the Maker Club will take care of that for you.
At the time of writing, an early bird MakerConnect chip and app package aimed at pro-level robot builders is still available for a pledge of £19. If all goes to plan, the team estimates delivery will start in March 2015.
The Club's pitch video is below.