Tiny Ringo teaches kids about robotics

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The teeny Ringo robot from Portland's Plum Geek

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Though you can work with your kids on all sorts of crazy electronics projects by adding numerous shields, break-out boards and attachments to existing development platforms or going wild with Lego Technic building blocks, such solutions just weren't cute enough for Kevin King and his kids Halley and Parker. Their digital pet is called Ringo and thanks to a successful crowdfunding effort, the teeny Arduino-based robotics and programming learning tool could be swarming toward backers in the coming months.

King and company have crammed an awful lot of goodness into a palm-sized package. The Ringo bot has a 3-axis accelerometer and a 3-axis gyroscope built in, six RGB LED lights, an integrated piezo sound element and bot-to-bot wireless comms for creating swarms. It sports three sensors for detecting ambient light for 360 degrees around itself, IR LED transmitters, a 38 kHz TV remote receiver, and variable speed pager motors that contact the surface so that the robot can move around a flat surface like a table top.

A light sensor and an IR light source are hidden away under both of the Ringo bug's feeler antennas and there's another sensor at the back end, allowing it to sense edges or follow lines so that crazy scientists can send the robot down complicated mazes or around a never-ending lined track. It gets its power from a single-cell Lithium battery and at its heart is the same microprocessor as the Arduino UNO, which runs at 8 MHz.

The Ringo platform comes pre-loaded with 10 different behaviors to get little tinkerers started. The system makes use of Arduino IDE for robotics programming adventures, and the developers have already created some custom libraries and functions so that youngsters don't have to worry about climbing over hurdles like coding the accelerometer and gyro or working through some heavy math to calculate movements. Videos and tutorials on how to write code for the Ringo bot are also in the pipe.

As all Ringo programmers will be using the same hardware, any clever, creative and fun behaviors coded by young roboticists can be shared with others, and user creations will be featured online for easy download or for some pre-install custom tweaking.

As the first Ringos roll out to backers of the Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign being used to jumpstart production, all files, schematics and source materials relating to the project will be released to the open source community.

As of writing, the campaign only has a few short hours to run, but funding has already been secured. If you're quick, you can still pledge US$89 for a single fully assembled robot and, should all go to plan, the first Ringos will start shipping this coming May.

The Ringo project is outlined in the Kickstarter pitch video below.

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