Friday, 17 May 2013

LightUp Modular Programmable Educational Electronics

LightUp is another new educational electronics Kickstarter project. We've been seeing a lot of excellent ideas for getting kids hands-on with electronics and robotics recently and LightUp looks like another great idea.

LightUp uses modular electronics blocks to build circuits without soldering (as do littleBits and Snap Circuits.) The blocks are compact with clearly visible electrical components and connected by magnets, they can be built on or off a base board and stacked to create parallel circuits.

There's a LightUp app with augmented reality features which can help show what the circuit will do and fix any problems with the design. This is a great idea and will encourage kids to experiment. A prototype LightUp app is already on Google Play.

There's also a programmable microprocessor block to allow systems to be controlled from a computer. I've found that you pretty quickly want to be able to do this when playing with electronics. You can do so much more when you combine software and hardware. LightUp's microprocessor is Arduino compatible and can be programmed with the Arduino programming language and compatible graphical tools. This feature makes LightUp stand out from other similar kits.

The Kickstarter has various different pledge options depending on whether you want just a little kit to try things out, a bigger kit with the microprocessor block, even bigger kits with loads of components or even a maker camp kit for running small workshops.

Each kit has sample projects that you can make with the included components. I think this is very important. Yes, you want to encourage kids to experiment with their own designs, but having some projects to works through to get started speeds up the learning process and gets them to a circuit that does something interesting quickly.

At time of writing the Kickstarter is just a couple of hours old and has already attracted quite a few supporters so I definitely expect it to be successful. The kits are planned to be delivered in December 2013, hopefully in time for the holidays. 

You can read more about the pedagogical goals behind LightUp in this academic paper which covers an earlier iteration of the system.

The focus of the Kickstarter is on the blocks and the app, but the LightUp project also has an online community emphasis where inventors and engineers can share their creations. And there's circuit modeling and simulation software so you can try things out and more advanced users can study circuits.

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