With robots set to play a more prominent role in society in the coming years, it makes sense to find fun ways to educate youngsters on the technology. To that end, Thomas Alva has developed Edison, a palm-sized, bright orange, programmable robot compatible with Lego bricks that is intended as an affordable introduction to programming and robotics.

Named to reflect its "inventive spirit," Edison features a host of sensors and runs on open source software. Each small bot is programmable and interacts with the world via IR transmitters and receivers, line tracking, barcode reading, playing sounds and music, and sound detection. One Edison can communicate with another over IR, with the units also able to be programmed to by controlled via TV and DVD remotes.

It’s in Edison’s open source programming tool where the micro action really happens. Edware, similar to Scratch and other graphical drag-and-drop programming languages, allows users to create programs for Edison that users can upload to the bot via their computer’s headphone jack and a cable that ships with the robots. Edware is already available for download for Windows only, though Linux and Mac versions will be provided later.

While Edison can only store one program at a time, driving over barcodes can trigger pre-programmed functions, such as following a flashlight, avoiding obstacles, staying within a border, following a line and driving by sound, thereby providing a simple way to chain up interactions for the bot.

Along its faces are Lego-compatible plates that allow the robots to be scaled up into a fancier creation, or even combined into a train or double-decker bot for a more complicated system. Each bot is powered by a set of AAA batteries, which should keep them going continuously for over an hour.

Edison is being developed by Australian company Microbric, which previously produced other lines of robots, including a modular set that clipped together, and has turned to Kickstarter to bring Edison to market. And the pledge price does seem affordable: AUD$39 (US$36) for a single bot and cheaper for multiple units for a family or classroom. If all goes well, the company plans to begin shipping Edison to backers by December.

In the company’s Kickstarter pitch video below you can see Edison get run over by a car and still move – and also educating children.

View gallery - 4 images