Mu at indiegogo

So I just stumpled over a really cool project at indiegogo. It is a at small micro controller with buildin camera, battery and IR transmitter. The on board software allows it to detect lines, shape, colours and faces and then it can control other things such as toys or mindstormrobots with its IR transmitter. 

It will basicly allow you to make toys with an IR resiver into an autonomous robots. It should also includes a deep learning engine, which I find extremly interresting. I have wanted to try and play with that for some time. The most crazy part of the project though is the price. It only costs 15 dollars!. You will also have to pay for shipping, but honestly that is real cheap. Go take your own look at it here.

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Mu at indiegogo

3 months with Hackerboxes

So I have been getting HackerBoxes for 3 months now and it have actuelly been a really good experience. With that said I have canceled my subscription after 3 months, but with the new option to buy a single month you can be sure I’ll grap a month now and then.

So why have I canceled my subscription? Well first of it is simply to expensive. Now the hackerbox itself is only 40 dollars, but because I live in Europe I also have to pay 15 dollars to get it send. Then 10 dollars in import taxes and a 20 dollars import fee to pay the 10 dollars in import taxes. So a hackerbox ends up costing me 95 dollars, which was simply to high a monthly expense.

The other problem is that there is to much in the boxes. This is kind of a luxury problem, but I love playing with this stuff and really learn it. I like to play around with the bits and try to connect them in new ways and see what I can build. That means that I use a lot of time on each “thing” in the box and right now I am simply overhelmed with things to do and try to get to work. I want to get the nunchaku to control an EV3, I want to install NodeMCU on the smart car and I still haven’t looked at the software defined radio. I have projcts for at least two or three more months.

So why will I still buy single boxes? Well because to me they are worth 95 dollars. I am amazed at how much hackerboxes are able to put into the boxes for only 40 dollars a month. I would often have to use more than 95 dollars to buy the same stuff in Denmark. Either because the parts are very expensive here or because it is not avaible so I would have to pay import taxes, import fees and cost of delivery when I ordre it.

Now besiddes all the physical stuff I have gotten with hackerbox, I have also gotten a lot of inspiration. I had never goven RFID any thoughts before I got the first hackerbox. Now I have found out that it is really cool. I had two nunchakus just laying around and not getting used until I got the third hackerbox. Now the coolest part about this is that you don’t even have to subscripe to hackerbox to be inspired by them. You can just check out their instructables and honestly you should, because they are really great.

In the future it would be really nice if hackerbox endeed up getting an European partner to distribute the hackerboxes in Europa. That way we wouldn’t have to pay import fee and the cost of delivery might be reduced. It might also be an idea to make subscriptions where you don’t get a box each month, so subscripers as me don’t get overhelmed. I don’t think it is something that is essentiel though, as they have already introduced the ability to buy one hackerbox at a time.

Cons:

  • Very expensive if your European
  • I personally get overhelmed by the amount of stuff in the box

Pros:

  • A good cost to stuff ration
  • Brilliant instructables
  • Gives me a lot of inspiration for projects

Ideas for improvements:

  • Get an European distributer
  • A subscription where you get a box each second month or once quarterly

 
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3 months with Hackerboxes

Another trip to the Independent Academy for Free School Teaching

So as some of you might remember I was asked to come to the Independent Academy for Free School Teaching and teach a bit about LEGO mindstorms by the students there. As I wrote the event went really well, I had a great time and it seemed like the students learned a lot. 

So last week I was invited back to teach an actuelly class. Again it all went pretty great. I came well prepared. First I lectured for about 40 minuts. Starting out with theoretical stuff like why do we want to teach coding, then I moved on to how to build a curriculum, how the LEGO robots works and their limits, how to get funding for the robots and at last how you could use them in other subjects like math and physics. After the lecture I had some hands-on assigments for them to solve. It was pretty much the kinds of assignments you would expect to give to people just starting out in mindstorms. Solve an easy labyrint without sensors, build and program a bumpercar, program a line following robot and a handfull other assignments like that. Even with an hour and a half left I knew the students would never get to solve all the assignments, but it meant that they had a lot of assignments for inspiration if they ever had to teach with LEGO mindstorms.

It all actuelly went pretty great. I had a great time again. The students seemed to have a great time and the lector who invited me also seemed to think that they learned a lot, so we might organise some more lectures at a latter point.

Another trip to the Independent Academy for Free School Teaching

A day at the independent academy for Free School Teaching

So a few weeks ago a couple of students from the independent academy for Free School Teaching asked if I would come around and show a bit about EV3 and how to use them in education. Of course I said yes and so last weekend I came around the school. They had 5 EV3 education sets and there where only 3 students, so there where lots of LEGO and I could give a lot of attention to each of them. I endeed up staying for around six hours showing how to program on the EV3 brick, ipad and computer and talking about when to use what in different educational settings.

In the end the students thought that they had learned a lot and I still had quiet a bit to teach, so they asked if I would come around another time and then they would try gathering some more students for it. I agreed because it had been such a great day. I really look forward to going down there again.

  

A day at the independent academy for Free School Teaching

My light scarred robot

So I got my second hackerbox a few days ago and I have actuelly already uploaded an unpacking video on youtube. I quickly assembled the robot car chassis and started experimenting with different ways to control it. First off I build I made it into an analog light follower by using some resistors, diodes and photoresistors. It worked okayish. The problem was that the speed difference betwen max speed and when it was able to drive at all was very low, so I was able to make it turn towards the light, but it needed several meters to turn 90 degrees. Here is a link to my first iteration. I improved a bit on the light sensors over a few iterations, but nothing that was able to change my main problem, that it simply changed direction to slowly. Actuelly I just got an idea. Maybe if I build in a comperator, so if the light difference betwen the two sides where to big, then one motor would simply stop. . . Well that will be a project for a latter date.

 
After that I wanted to try and control it with an arduino. At first I wanted to control it with an arduino UNO or Nano. UNO, because then we where only using the stuff that came in the hackerbox or nano, because it would be cheaper if I one day wanted to recreate it with my students. But both arduinos needs either 5 volt regulated or at 7+ volt unregulated and the battery pack only supplied 5.9 volts unregulated. So I was just about to chabge the powerpacket when I remembered that I actuelly had an adafruit pro trinket board laying around. I was originally going to use it to build a cosmic turtle for my wife, but I used a Gemma instead because it fitted better. The pro trinket only needed 3.5 volt unregulated and can take up to 16 volts so there seem to be no problem with a 5.9 volt powersupply. The power regulator on the board doesn’t seem to get hot.

 
The arduino is much better at getting different speed levels out of the motors, but because of the pwm they are quiet a bit more noisy than before. Anyway I used the adafruit trinket and the photoresistors to first make a light follower robot. I then changed the program a small bit and made it into a robot that tried to get away from light sources. Nothing hard, but my wife found it rather cute how the robot got scared by the flash light.

 
I think my next step will be to take of the photoresistor sensors and see if I can control it using the remote control and IR sensor I got with the first hackerbox. I haven’t tried controling an arduino with an IR sensor before though, so it may take me some time to build and code it properly.

 

My light scarred robot

Tron-Club

So the fifth Tron-kit have finally arrived and I guess that means I have been part of Tron-club for a half a year, so it seems to be a good time to write something comprehensive about Tron-club and my experience with it.
So if you have never heard about Tron-club before it is simply a monthly subscription service that sends you some electronic parts and a small booklet with some circuits you can build each month. It is based in Canada and it is very cheap. As an European I pay 20 €, which include getting the kit send to me.

Compared to other learning kits
Now when I started trying to learn electronics I bought a electronic basic kits from Sparkle Labs. It was pretty cool. I got a lot of a few components, lots of resistors, capacitors, and wires, but there wheren’t actuelly that many circuits in the booklet and I actuelly only needed a few of the components in the kit. This is not restricted to Sparkle Labs. That is how most of these packets works. For example Pirates Electronics kit, a huge kickstarter succes, include 500 components! Sadly most of these components are resistors and they only include 40 circuits in their booklet. It should here be said that these two kits cost betwen $50 – $60 and that if before shipping.
Tron-club goes the total other way. They send you the exact number of components you need to build your circuit. There is rarely extra LED’s, resistors or capacitors and you sometimes also have to use components from older kits. On the other hand this allow them to send you large number of unique components, which in turn enable you to make a larger number of different circuits. There is actuelly 22 circuits in each booklet. Compare that to the 40 circuits in the Pirates Electronics kit that costs more than three times as much.

The unique components
I think one of the cool things about Tron-club is all the different component parts you get to use. It really helps to show you all the different parts of the electronic world. Some times you get introduced to stuff that blows your mind like when we resived a small IC that looked exactly like a transistor, but was able to play “To Alice”, other times it is just about seeing some of the different stuff this world have to offer and enable you to compare their pros and cons. I have already worked with three different kinds of motors and I think I have a good idea about what kind of motors I would use for different projects. I have worked with different breadboards and I have realised that mini breadboards are pretty great. I would not have touched them before Tron-club.

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Booklet and learning
So there is 22 circuits in each booklet. The first circuits are extremly simple, but they become harder and more complex as you move forward. Some of the circuits are just single circuits, designed to be cool or showing you how a component work. Often though the circuits are connected in one way or another. Sometimes you will have a handfull of circuits designed around a single IC to help you understand how that IC works. Other times you will build two simple circuits and then latter combine them into a more complex circuit. This is especially cool when you have each of the simple circuits on their own mini breadboard, so it is easy to see that your actuelly building more complex circuits by combining multiple simple circuits.
Besiddes the circuits you will also find all kind of nice information at the buttom of each page. Besiddes a basic description of the circuit you will be introduced to different theories, laws and equations. Sometimes there will be suggestions on how to modifie the circuits, which is very nice. On one hand I am always a bit afraid to lower the resistance in a circuit as I know it might damagde some of the more sensitive components, but on the other hand I always enjoy changing things a bit to see what happens, so these small suggestions are always welcome.

Some of the problems
Now Tron-club is not perfect. I think can think of a few changes that could improve the learning you get from the booklet. A cool thing about Tron-club though is that they are really good at listening to suggestion and improve their product. People complained about some of the early wires and problems with getting the power supplies to stick to the breadboard and Tron-club took steps to improve this. There where some mistakes in the circuits in booklet 1 and 2, but I haven’t seen any in booklet 4 and 5.
That said they do have a pair of problems they have yet to deal with properly. First of they are having a hard time delivering a new set each month. It is a problem only affecting the first subscribers, because new subscribers get on of the earlier kits, but for them it means that their kit is sometimes posted a bit late. The other problem is communication. Communication with Tron-club doesn’t feel like your talking with a small cool startup. It feels like your communicating with a big old coorporation.
There is also a last problem, which happens because of all the unique components they send you, because it also includes unique resistors. I have a nice sorting box for all my resistors where I have sorted my resistors in the must used values and then it have a room for all the strange valued resistors I get from Tron-club. It is simply impossible to have enough sorting rooms for all the different resistor values 😀

Wrapping it up
So far my time with Tron-club have been great and I love all the improvements there have been so far. It takes me about three weeks to finish one kit, which give me a week to look forward to the next. If I where to start learning electronics knowing what I know now, then I would properly not bothered with any starter kits, but just bought a voltmeter and started a Tron-club subscribtion.

Tron-Club