Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Robotics Takes Flight With Hummingbird Duo Kit

This post was prompted by recent article involving robotics, a microcontroller (MCU) application of high interest, especially to young people.

The Design News article, “Hummingbird Makes Coding Easy,” talks about the new Hummingbird robotics kit. Although the title indicates a focus on programming, the article really just briefly mentions the coding aspects of a Hummingbird kit in this paragraph:
The kit is called the Hummingbird Duo and is meant to provide a progressive robotics learning experience. Users start on level one, where they build and program their own homemade robot using the Hummingbird board. At level two, users can program their robots using computer programs Scratch 2.0 or Snap! Makers can also use the very same kit to run Arduino Leondardo (which comes installed on the
Hummingbird Duo robotics kit
backside of the board) to create a standalone robot, capable of doing anything really, since it's open source and can run on Mac, Windows, or Linux
The main goal of the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group is to expand and connect the Humboldt community of people using microcontrollers. An important aspect of using microcontrollers is knowing how to program a microcontroller and becoming good at it. Although the above article doesn’t tell us a lot about the programming aspects of working with the Hummingbird robotics kit, the Parents’ Choice review of the kit gives a much better understanding of why Design News might have used a title about ‘making coding easy.’
Parents' Choice award
The box contains no manuals as such, but points to the developers' website for guides to get started, links to video and print tutorials, and guidance on choosing and using a programming language. No programming skills are needed before beginning; the developers created a baseline CMU CREATE Lab Visual Programmer that is easy for non-programmers to use to get started. This is also a great way for children ages 8 and above to start thinking about the logic and flow of a computer program, and convenient for more experienced programmers to use to test the connectivity of the equipment. A wide range of languages can be used, however. Slightly older children may have fun developing within the Scratch language, which connects to a programming and creativity community online—widely popular with preteens and young teens. Those who are interested in serious design can use Python or Java, among several other choices. In testing, we had success with all of the languages named above. The developers are keen to emphasize the creative side of this...this kit is by no means limited to craft projects; as it uses off-the shelf parts, one could potentially integrate much larger circuitry or even other electronics kits (they have a tutorial with MaKey MaKey) into the system, using the Hummingbird controller as an easy interface. This kit has the possibility to be used in high school and college electronics laboratories.”
An article from the Newport Beach Independent, “ExplorOcean: Robotics for Kids” also addresses the coding involved with Hummingbird robotics kits. This summer, ExplorOcean is offering,
ExplorOcean classroom and parts bins
hands-on “Maker Workshops,” which teach children and teens age 10 and older about technology, programming, and engineering...Classes include how to build robots, rockets, metal detectors and other projects...Grounded in the seventh principle of ocean literacy that the ocean is largely unexplored, the program is designed to provide kids with the tools to discover. The different activities teach the participants to “understand and then innovate.”...On Tuesday, four Huntington Beach siblings worked with Hummingbird robotics kits, programming robotics with a computer to manipulate movements and create noises...“It’s really cool because it can be simplified for someone of a younger age or someone who’s going to go to college,” Aisha Lozada, an Explor Educator said about the equipment she uses to teach kids programming and robotics...Kids learn to control their robots through a computer program. “They had to create a project board that (lists) the materials they used, how the thing works,” she said, “but they also did real world connections, like where might you see this in the real world, but they also had to identify problems and solutions.”...Another one of their programs, EcoTech, teaches kids about ocean threats, and has them create and use underwater robots to film documentaries, thereby mixing ocean ecology, robotics, and film making into one activity. To many kids, robotics may seem more difficult than fun, but most participants enjoy the experience and many comment that they would like to continue learning about robotics in the future. It’s the perfect way to introduce children to programming and engineering...”
Because a large number of Humboldt residents are near Humboldt Bay and the ocean, it would be cool to discuss with local educators, students and parents whether an ocean robotics program similar to the one at ExplorOcean would work well in Humboldt County. As the above article mentions, “It’s the perfect way to introduce children to programming and engineering...”

From a programming standpoint, the Hummingbird’s company website provides lots of coding resources. Some of those resources can be found on the following webpages:
  1. Hummingbird Software -- This page talks about using several programming languages and programming environments with the Hummingbird kit, including Visual Programmer, Scratch, Snap!, Python, Calico, Processing and Java.
  2. Hummingbird Firmware -- The Hummingbird site has a page dedicated to firmware for the Atmel Atmega16u4, the MCU on the Hummingbird ‘controller’ board.
  3. Hummingbird Tutorials -- This page has 13 tutorials to help you get started on different aspects of programming and using the Hummingbird robot you build.
A Kickstarter campaign just finished for the Hummingbird Duo robotics kit. Their campaign goal was $30,000, and they ended up with $42,074. Although they achieved their base funding goal, the campaign wasn’t a runaway success like the Spark Core mentioned in yesterday’s post. The Hummingbird Kickstarter campaign had several stretch goals, with the top one being $250,000. One of the nice things about the campaign showing their stretch goals is that it gives Hummingbird robot builders ideas for expanding the capabilities of their robot.
Bot4Julia, Arduino compatible-based robot

Some interesting or useful MCU projects, like building a plain temperature or light sensing device, aren’t the most effective at getting new people interested in working with MCUs. Other MCU projects, however, have great potential for catching people’s interest or encouraging public interaction. 3D printers are one MCU application that seems to draw a crowd of interested passersby when they are set up in public. Another type of MCU project good for catching people’s interest is robotics.

After the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group finishes the Jeremy Blum Arduino video tutorials, we’ll discuss what the focus should be for future biweekly Thursday meetings. One possibility for meeting topics is various MCU projects. One project near the top of the list should probably be robotics, both to have fun and to get more Humboldt residents interested in MCUs.

Speaking of Humboldt and MCUs, tomorrow, Thursday, July 10, is the next Humboldt Microcontrollers Group meeting from 6 to 8 PM at 1385 8th Street, Arcata, California. Hope to see you there for a discussion about I2C and Processing.


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