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Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen.
Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen. | Show Photo

Innovation

BirdBrain Technologies, cool kits that make robotics learning fun

School projects today certainly aren’t what they used to be. They are way more exciting.

With do-it-yourself robotic technology from BirdBrain Technologies, a CMU spinout, it won’t be long until the stationary diorama is transformed into an action-packed drama.
 
Founder Tom Lauwers is creating kits with all the electronics one needs to build a robot and become an aspiring roboticist. It will take high school projects to the next level.

Originally from San Francisco, Lauwers has spent the last five years working on his doctorate in product design at CMU’s CREATE Lab, tinkering with robot kits and electronics. His goal is to create educationally relevant tools that get high school and college students excited about the world of robotics.
 
His first product, Finch, was a stingray-shaped robot that detects orientation and entertains students while teaching them the finer points of interactive programming. It is currently being used as part of high school science curriculums.
 
The Hummingbird kit is low-cost hardware and software system that allows students to build expressive and communicative robots out of arts and crafts materials. Lauwers points to a project on the table, made from not much more than circuitry and wiring, a few cardboard boxes, foam board and construction paper.
 
“It’s intentionally made not like a toy so people feel empowered to mess with electronics,” he explains “It’s not magical or hard. Once you have something anyone can buy, people will use it in ways you don’t expect.”
 
BirdBrain is manufacturing the kits in China. Many are already being used in public and private schools.
 
The company is one of many up for an award at the 2013 DATA Awards on Thursday night, May 16th, on the North Side. General admission tickets for $25 are available starting at 7 p.m.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Tom Lauwers, BirdBrain Technologies
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