It has been apparent for a while now that North America must do a better job of training the next generation if they want to keep up with the growing tech fields in China and India. The growing need for a workforce that is aware of and familiar with greater levels of technological and artistic principles, the STEAM movement has found itself being incorporated into a growing number of school curricula. By having inclusive educational materials focusing on the sciences, technology, engineering, arts, and math, the hope is that the US can maintain its place as the economic leader of the world.
While many countries have been soundly beating us when it comes to preparing their kids for a high-tech job market, that has begun to change thanks to the growing popularity of desktop 3D printing and affordable DIY robotics kits. This year alone has seen dramatic rises in schools opening makerspaces and 3D printing labs, and independent makerspaces and hackspaces are a growing presence in many a community.
Hoping to continue to insure that STEAM education is fun, and relevant, the UK startup Cannybots has created their customizable race car kits. Cannybot Racers are 3D printable, open sourced Bluetooth-enabled toy cars that can be controlled using tablets, smartphones, and a Raspberry Pi. The cars are easy to print on just about any home 3D printer, and can be programmed using Arduino, Blockly, mbed, Python, or Scratch.
Take a look at how they are being used to get kids excited about programming and engineering:
You can also see the Cannybots in action here:
Each Cannybot is made up of several 3D printed structural components that any school can print in their 3D printing lab, as well as several low-cost hardware components. The bots are run using a custom created single board controller called the BlueBrain that is extremely small and easy to fit inside of the small cars. The BlueBrain incorporates motor controllers, Bluetooth 4.0, an ARM processor, and a line sensor on the underside of the car that will keep it on the track.
The sensors on the underside of the cars detect a simple black track that can be printed on any basic printer or made with black electrical tape. Cannybots also have a selection of professionally designed tracks printed on durable banner quality paper by professional designers. They have options ranging from basic figure eight tracks to complicated mazes and obstacle courses.
Every part of the Cannybots kits are completely open source and available directly from their website. You can learn about the software used to program the cars here, the specs and details about the BlueBrain here, and of course you can download the structural 3D printable parts here.
This makes Cannybots an ideal option for more complicated build and design projects for higher grades or expert makers while the parts can be obtained directly from Cannybots for lower level students or beginning makers.
“Cannybots are ideal for teaching as the bots tend to create a high level of engagement with the kids. It can be used across both primary and secondary education: the built-in turtle behaviour lets children explore simple instructions and basic algorithms. They can then move on to more complicated maze solving programs using sequence, selection, and repetition to respond to the line following input. The Cannybots grab the children’s interest with their zippy personality and ease them in to building more and more complex behaviour. The openness of the platform lets secondary students delve deeper — peeking behind their visual programming to see the Arduino code that actually runs on the robots — and physically taking apart and reassembling their Cannybots to see how the components fit together and communicate,” explains the Cannybots development team on their website.
The Cannybot kits are currently only available in limited numbers to schools, maker clubs, and code clubs, they will soon be launching a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund enough to make the kits available to everyone. You can watch the Cannybots intro video here:
I have to admit, the Cannybots look like quite a bit of fun, and because the structure of the cars is 3D printable, students could enjoy the opportunity to customize their cars. Depending on the type of 3D software available, it shouldn’t be difficult to add all sorts of custom features like spoilers, wings, lettering, and even faces. Students could even create cool weapon like appendages and recreate Mad Max-like cars, which someone needs to do.
What do you think about projects like Cannybots that are designed to bring education and fun together? Are you an educator who has used 3D printing and basic coding in your classroom? Let us know on our 3D Printable Cannybot Racers forum thread at 3DPB.com.