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Hummingbird kit lets children design their own functioning robots


July 12, 2012

The Hummingbird kit allows children to turn their art projects into moving, interactive robots

The Hummingbird kit allows children to turn their art projects into moving, interactive robots

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Children generally love to create art and are fascinated by robots, so what if there was a way for them to turn their art projects into robots? Well, there is. Carnegie Mellon University spin-off company BirdBrain Technologies has introduced the Hummingbird kit, which contains everything kids (or adults) need to add powered movement and interactivity to their dragons, kitties or spaceships.

The kit itself includes a controller, power supply, cables, servos, motors, colored LED lights, along with light, temperature, sound and distance sensors. The idea is that users will create projects out of rigid materials such as foam-core or cardboard (or Lego, or wood, or whatever), and then rig them up with the motors, lights, and/or sensors. Once everything is assembled, the finished product is connected to a computer, where the controller is programmed using a free drag-and-drop application.

The company claims that no technical or programming skills are required, although the kit is recommended for children who are at least 11 years old.

Unlike some other educational robotics kits, in which people simply follow instructions to build a specific robot, Hummingbird is intended to foster a DIY spirit in its users. “We want students to become inventors of technology rather than users of technology,” said Carnegie Mellon Robotics Professor Illah Nourbakhsh, whose CREATE Lab initially developed the kit. “Hummingbird feeds a student's natural curiosity about technology by enabling her to incorporate robotics into something she is making that is meaningful or useful.”

The kit is integrated into the university’s Arts & Bots program, which provides schools or other clients with guidance and suggestions for its use.

Hummingbird can be purchased from BirdBrain, for US$199. To see what sort of things could be created with it, check out the following video of an advanced project (which, admittedly, wasn’t built by a child).

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Yikes - $200? That's a steep markup for a $30 servo controller with a few 99c addons... Grab a pololu, visit ebay, and save 400%.


It is more than just a Servo Controller. There is more info on their website: http://www.hummingbirdkit.com/

It comes with cables, LED's, vibration motors, 4 servos, 2 DC motors, and various sensors (light, sound, temp, distance).

It is still $100 cheaper than Lego Mindstorms and definitely into hobbyist price range. It would be cool to see a review of this vs the famous Arduino + addons or maybe a comparable cost Arduino starter kit.

It looks like Hummingbird offers more high level software (like drag and drop building blocks) where Arduino projects are often done in C which is a bit of a barrier to most normal people. Here is the code required to get Arduino to move a servo when a button is pressed: http://oi49.tinypic.com/e6ptmq.jpg

It isn't super complicated but it is also doing a small amount of work and there are people I took computer science classes with that wouldn't be able to write it from scratch.

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