BirdBrain Technologies, a Pittsburgh-based startup, is launching a Kickstarter campaign in late April 2014 to seed the new version of its Hummingbird Robotics Kit – the Hummingbird Duo – that enables elementary and middle students to learn science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through integration with arts and crafts.
?We haven?t decided on the amount yet for the new Hummingbird Duo, but it will be at least $25,000 and maybe up to $50,000,? says Dr. Tom Lauwers, founder BirdBrain, which spun out of the CREATE Lab of Carnegie Mellon University?s (CMU) Robotics Institute. BirdBrain?s focus is to create new educational tools that leverage robotics and sensing technologies.
Kickstarter is the world?s largest crowd-funding website. BirdBrain will receive the funding for the Hummingbird Duo only if it reaches its target amount.
How the Hummingbird Duo Works
The new Hummingbird Duo will operate in two modes. The first is similar to the current Hummingbird in tethered mode. The second, a wireless mode, will use the open-source Arduino micro-controller, which is targeted toward artists, designers, hobbyists and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.
?Hummingbird uses an artistic and creative approach to teaching robotics,” says Lauwers. “Arduino is a core tool within the Maker Movement and we believe that will have great appeal.”
The Maker Movement uses engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics and 3D printing with traditional arts and crafts. Many educators see it as a way to promote STEM subjects by making those topics more relevant to students.
?Maker tools are focused more on hobbyists than education, although many of those users are students,? Lauwers says. ?We hope to form a bridge between education and Maker tools.?
Arduino uses text-based language for programming Hummingbird Duo. ?We want to give students a feeling of empowerment. By 8th or 9th grade, they will be using the exact same text,” he says. “By learning a little part of it at an early age, it is not like they are jumping 100 feet at once. It will be more like going up a staircase.”
Lauwers says the ceiling with Arduino is so high that ?even as students get to college they can continue to use it for new things.?
Working with CMU
All of BirdBrain?s technology is licensed through CMU, and that close relationship has proven beneficial. The company?s Hummingbird Robotics Kit and its Finch, a computer science educational robot, were both on display at the university?s trade show booth at the SXSWedu Conference and Festival in Austin, TX.
Although the fledgling BirdBrain presently consists of only Lauwers and ?a bunch of consultants,? he is optimistic about the future.
?Our long-range goal is getting engineering design and computer science taught as part of the regular school day, not just as an after-school activity or through a gifted program,? Lauwers says. ?We will be successful when we walk into any school and our educational tools are being used.?
How BirdBrain Got Started
BirdBrain was founded by Lauwers in 2010 while working on his Ph.D in Robotics at CMU, where he focused on the creation and design of robots, robot kits and other electronic devices and how to align the capabilities and interface of those devices to a specific educational context.
?During that work, there were several educational projects with commercial potential,” he says. “We wanted to create a commercial demand.?
In late 2012, BirdBrain released the Hummingbird Robotics Kit, which allows students to combine craft materials and robotic components to build and animate robots using virtual programming software, with no technical skills required. The kit costs $199, with bulk discounts available.
?Every elementary school student is familiar with arts and crafts,” Lauwers says. “Hummingbird was a way to use that creativity as an introduction to engineering design and programming.”
With Hummingbird, students add craft materials to make their robots more expressive, helping to stimulate interest in robotics.
?It is a nice introduction into engineering design and programming. Teachers can use the Hummingbird in virtually any class, including science, arts, computer technology, history and languages,? says Lauwers.
He calls the educational robot field a ?very young and undeveloped market.? Hummingbird is presently in 200-250 classrooms, primarily in western Pennsylvania. ?That tells us the potential market is very large,? says Lauwers.Read More