Almost anything that can be made with paper, paint and cardboard can be animated with Hummingbird, an educational robotics kit developed at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute. Fast Company's Co.Exist site says it's a gift that can get girls interested in engineering.
No technical experience is necessary to use the kit, but classroom teachers say it fosters interest in technology among students ages 11 and up.
The Hummingbird kit consists of a customized control board along with a variety of lights, sensors and motors that can be connected to the controller without soldering. Students program their creations with a free, easy-to-learn, drag-and-drop environment that requires no prior experience with programming. The kit is now available for sale ($199) through a CMU spinoff company, BirdBrain Technologies.
Hummingbird was developed in the CREATE Lab of Illah Nourbakhsh, professor of robotics, as part of a project called Arts & Bots.
The project, originally known as Robot Diaries, was launched with the help of the Heinz Endowments to explore how to foster interest in technology at the middle school level, particularly among girls. "Studies have shown that when they enter middle school, boys and girls are equally interested in robots," Nourbakhsh said. "But three years later, it's very different, with interest down dramatically among girls. So you have to ask: What's happening in middle school?"
Tom Lauwers, who earned his doctorate in robotics in Nourbakhsh's lab and now heads BirdBrain Technologies, said Hummingbird nicely ties into the increasingly popular "maker movement," the do-it-yourself approach to technology. As with other "makers," students using Hummingbird get hooked on the idea that they can use technology to make all sorts of things, he added.
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