Cubelets = Robot Construction Kit - Learning Robotics construction one cube at a time...

Description

Today's Hardware Friday post comes to use via Friend of C9 (I guess this is a Friend of... week, isn't it?), Rob Miles.

It's also another of those non-Microsoft related projects, but it does look really cool and fun, it's different and it's also something that can be used to to introduce young and old to the awesome that is robotics...

Learning Computing with Cubelets

I’m always on the lookout for a neat gadget. And at the Gadget Show I found one. What you can see above are Cubelets from ModRobotics. The picture above shows a robot made of little, cooperating cubelets. Each is around an inch on each side, and each is fitted with a set of tiny magnets that allows cubelets to snap to each other and send data back and forth. And each cubelet does something. Above, from left to right you can see a battery cubelet, a distance cubelet and a light cubelet. Black cubelets are sense cubelets, transparent cubes perform some form of action. Coloured cubelets are “thinking” cubelets that do something with the data coming in.

A sense cubelet will send out out the value it “sees” to all the cubelets around it. The distance one sends a signal that gets stronger the closer it is to something. So above you can see the reaction to my camera.

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“Programming” with cubelets isn’t really programming at all. They click together and organise themselves so neatly that you just pop them into arrangements to see what they do. They are toy certified for kids from 4 years old, and I reckon that is a place they will really shine. After a bit of fun and games you can get some very complicated behaviours, and start making robots that behave in a way that you want, for example things like line following.

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And finally, as if this wasn’t enough, you can actually re-program the thinking cubes in C. The blue cube at the top left hand corner of my collection above is a Bluetooth cube that can talk to your PC.

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The whole thing is utterly charming. The programming in C aspect is a bit of a work in progress at the moment, although it does work and ModRobotics are very responsive if you have problems. The system is powered by tiny rechargeable lithium-ion cells in the battery cubelet that seem to last a long time and the cubelets themselves are beautifully made and look like they would stand up to a lot of hammer. The kits are not cheap, but they aren’t bonkers expensive either, and you can always get them “on instalments” by just purchasing a few at a time. Well worth a look if you have any interest in engaging children with computing.

Modular Robotics

Cubelets is a robot construction kit

By combining sensor, logic and actuator blocks, young kids can create simple reconfigurable robots that exhibit surprisingly complex behavior.

Cubelets are magnetic blocks that can be snapped together to make an endless variety of robots with no programming and no wires. You can build robots that drive around on a tabletop, respond to light, sound, and temperature, and have surprisingly lifelike behavior. But instead of programming that behavior, you snap the cubelets together and watch the behavior emerge like with a flock of birds or a swarm of bees.

Each cubelet in the kit has different equipment on board and a different default behavior. There are Sense Blocks that act like our eyes and ears, Action blocks, and Think blocks. Just like with people, the senses are the inputs to the system.

You know I'm just a sucker for using robotics with/and/for education....

Education

We believe toys shape the way that children think about the world. Our toys give students the opportunities and resources to jump-start learning with fun, hands-on experiences and let their ideas take shape literally and metaphorically

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Lesson Plans

Getting Started

Building Modular Robots with Cubelets

  1. A first robot
  2. Try swapping Sense blocks
  3. Try swapping Action blocks
  4. How numbers flow
  5. Using the Bar Graph block to see the numbers
  6. How you arrange the Cubelets makes a difference
  7. Stability
  8. A Sense block can control more than one Action block
  9. Think blocks
  10. The Inverse Think block
  11. Differential drive
  12. Action blocks average their inputs
  13. Gradients: diffusion
  14. Use the Minimum block as a switch
  15. Use the Blocker block to separate two parts of a robot
  16. Troubleshooting
  17. Take a look at your Cubelets
  18. A note to experienced programmers

1. A first robot

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You need a gray block, a black block, and a clear block. Snap them together.  You’ve built a robot!

Every robot needs power.  The blue-gray block is the Battery block
(hint: the Battery block has an on-off switch.  Make sure it’s on before you start to play; turn it off when you’re done.)

A robot is a machine that senses its surroundings and acts on its surroundings. So every robot needs a Sense block and a Action block. Sense blocks are black and Action blocks are clear.

Snap together a Battery block, a Knob Sense block, and a Flashlight Action block.  The Flashlight Action block lights up.  You control its brightness by turning the knob.

It dims when you turn the knob counterclockwise (to the left) so you could call it a dimbot.

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What kind of stuff can you do? Check out this blog post from Christie Veitch (copied in full)...

Maze solving with a twist

Sometimes I think about not having the classical robotics education in my bag of tricks (educator and Cognitive Psychologist over here, so I’ve spent much more time thinking about humans, rats, philosophy and AI than about Mindstorms in my professional past). So, I wanted to learn more in order to better discuss robotics with whip-smart high school students competing in robotics challenges. Most of these students, somewhere along the way, build maze solvers.

Here’s our version, with the twist of using the distributed robotics model in Cubelets, rather than a top-down-and-central-brain robot that most teams make.

Follow this recipe:

1. Work at the coolest robotics toy company ever.

2. Build a robot with Cubelets.

2a. Worry that Cubelets don’t have central brains.

3. Decide to reprogram your robot.

4. Assemble a crack team to build a maze, define the problem, and iteratively code and test.

5. Run this by your best friend who reminds you that often the best way out of a maze is to keep one hand on the wall at all times and just keep following that.

6. Say that to the co-founder of the company.

7. Wait 10 minutes

8. Take this video of the “brainless” robot he built successfully solving our simple maze. Huzzah!

Now go out and cube your Cubelets!

The Discussion

  • User profile image
    Don

    What's the difference between this and an old Radio Shack type component plug in board ? The RS board makes you think about what you're doing. My oh My , we have progressed haven't we.

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