Monday, 1 July 2013

STEMbot1 Android Phone Robot with Catroid Programming

STEMbot1 isn't the fanciest phone-based robot you'll find, but he's affordable and approachable as an educational tech toy for kids. This robot kit is currently running a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign which has very modest objectives and looks likely to succeed.

Many robots rely on expensive iPhones, it's excellent to find a kit that will work with a spare Android phone (not included in the kit.) There must be lots of Android phones lying in draws that would love to get a pair of wheels like this.

STEMbot1 is designed to be accessible to children and can be controlled using Catroid - a Scratch-like visual programming language that runs on Android devices. You can write and run the programs directly on the Android phone.

My kids are currently enjoying learning Scratch and we'll definitely be trying Catroid too. Having an affordable way to use Catroid to control an Android phone robot is an excellent idea.


STEMbot1 is cleverly Macgyvered together from bits and bobs including a popsicle stick and double-sided tape (yes really!) It does need a few items from electronics stores including its servo motors and controls boards but the rest are easy to get hold of, though it makes sense to get them in a kit that has been pulled together for you.

The geek in me loves the way that Catroid gets interfaced to the robot's control board. It uses audio files that are played using Catroid sound blocks. Then the headphone jack of the phone is connected to the control boad. Neat. It could be improved from a user experience perspective, but I think kids will quickly understand what they need to do.

Because the phone becomes part of the robot you have a graphical display and the option for interactivity using touch. There's loads of scope for kids to be able to make their robot interactive through the phone interface via Catroid.

I've been wanting to see more Android phone based tech toys. One of the problems is the non-standard sizes compared with the uniformity of the Apple world. Here that problem is simply solved using an adjustable plastic phone mount.

You can watch the robot in action and get to see the Catroid programming interface in the project video:


We've seen lots of other educational robots recently like mOwayduino, Romo and BrickPi. STEMbot1 offers a simple and inexpensive experience on the Android platform and one where kids will really be able to create interesting projects in an intuitive way.


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