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Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends assemble. We create gift lists to help you make good choices for kids technology which helps them develop the right skills for the future. We research the best in Coding Toys and Games, Making / Craft Tools and Kits, STEM/STEAM related gifts, Programmable Robots, Electronics Kits and Gadgets for Tech Age Kids and Teens.

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We're advocates of the creative use of technology, but this needs to be balanced with developing physical skills such as papercraft, woodwork, clay modelling, technical drawing and soldering. If children don't develop these skills as they grow up then physical making projects can become frustrating rather than fun. The Maker Community uses the term 'making' as a broad term to include all sorts of artisan skills or craft activities. Being able to make things can lead to life-long hobbies or even careers. It's a great feeling to be able to take a project from an idea in your head to a real object that does something. We're particularly interested to explore products that combine maker skills with tech skills such as electronics but others focus purely on the physical making skills that are still important to modern making.

Morpx MU for Toys Smart Eye for Toys Review - First Impressions


Morpx MU is a gadget that can be used with IR toys including LEGO Power Functions and some HexBug robots to turn them into autonomous robots. You can use MU to get a HEXBUG spider to follow a line or a LEGO Power Functions and vehicle to follow a person.

We backed the MU Indiegogo campaign and have received our MU devices. MU is at a fairly early stage and the supporting software is still under active development. There have already been firmware updates and new projects for MU released and the app is not yet available. We expect to return to MU in the future so this is a first impressions review.

MU is a small round device with a rechargeable battery, a camera, a processor that's programmed to interpret what the camera sees, a speaker for sound and voice output and an IR transmitter that is used to send IR remote commands to existing toys.

Unboxing MU

MU is nicely packaged in a small box and comes with a USB cable for charging and a mount with adhesive backing for attaching to toys. 

The box is made from sturdy cardboard and is well suited to storing MU and it's accessories. This is important to us.

MU itself is very nicely made and does a great job of creating a personality in a small device. 


Getting Started

MU comes with a small instruction sheet that explains its different modes. 

There's a simple 'No Toy'  option which says "Hello, nice to meet you." when the camera detects a face. The eyes also turn green. This is really useful as you can tell that MU is working straight away. 

It's a pretty neat trick and MU seems to be able to spot faces fairly well.

It's worth playing round with this mode for a while and thinking about the viewing angle. There's no way for you to see what MU is seeing (unlike the with OhBot robot which detects faces.)

Updating the Firmware

You may need to update MU's firmware to get the latest behaviours. 

The initial firmware contains modes for HEXBUG and LEGO and you can download the latest General firmware. There are also options for LEGO only and HEXBUG only which give you more options for those toys (but don't support the other toys.) 

To download the latest Firmware you need to create an an account. You need your MU's serial number. This is included on the box and there's also a software utility that can retrieve it. This is a bit of a cumbersome process just to grab a firmware update. 

You then put your MU into update mode by holding the mode button and then pressing the power button - its eyes will blink green. 

Then you run the update utility. There are different instructions for different operating systems. Linux is included which meant I could just run it on my laptop and not have to switch to another machine. 


HEXBUG Spider

One of the toys that MU works with is the HEXBUG spider. This is an easy way to get started with using MU as you don't need to build anything. You just attach the MU to the top of the spider using the mounting clip. A sticky pad is included for this purpose but we used a velcro dot as this gives use the flexibility to move the MU around.



There's a video that shows you how to position MU:



Cycling through the options to get to the HEXBUG Spider mode is straightforward as you get voice feedback at each stage. We switched to the HEXBUG spider option where there are three models: Ball, Line Following and Human.

Ball Mode

We tried the ball mode first. The HEXBUG spider has two channels and the MU works on Channel 1. 

MU emulates the remote control by sending IR signals and this simple trick seems pretty effective. 

In ball mode MU detects an coloured ball (with good contrast to its surroundings), walks towards it and making firing noises.

Line Following Mode

Next we tried line following mode. We used the board that we created for another line following robot - Ozobot.

MU was reasonably good at following the lines on the board. You really need to think about the angle that MU is positioned at. It is looking at the path ahead so it detects a lack of path before reaching it and can look for an alternate route.

MU isn't as effective at line following as a robot like Ozobot which has a built in, low to the ground sensor.

It was fun to add line following to an existing toy though. We really liked that MU gives feedback through its beeps on what it is seeing. You can tell when is spots a dead end and when it has found a new path to follow.

Line following doesn't necessarily need a line. You can get MU to follow an object that can be clearly distinguished from the background.

Human Mode

In Human Mode MU makes the HEXBUG spider follow a detected human. We were able to get this working. It's not exactly smooth, but we were certainly able to get MU to navigate the HEXBUG spider to a particular location just using face detection.



The MU App

The MU crowdfunding campaign described an app that would allow you to customize MU's behaviour in response to trigger events and record custom voice responses. This sounds great, but it's not available yet. According to the MU FAQ "It's still a work in progress, and we will notify you once it's ready."


MU with LEGO

MU also has options for working with LEGO Power Functions and LEGO Mindstorms EV3 models. We'll return to these in a future post as there's lots to cover.

MU for Makers

Makers can work directly with the MU hardware via a cable. You can get sensor data from MU and handle it using additional hardware such as an Arduino. You can use control servos to create a pan and tilt style mechanism so MU can look around. 

Advanced users can build robots that make use of MU's vision capability. We haven't explored this capability yet, but may well return to it in future when we have a project that needs it.

About MU

If you want to find out more about how MU was developed and the way the technology works then you can watch this talk by Tianli Yu, CEO Morpx inc.


Verdict


MU is a really interesting idea, but it's early days for the product. Most users would appreciate a bit more documentation than is currently provided.

You are likely to have to buy some expensive LEGO sets to get the most from MU. We'd like to see some simpler LEGO starter models that people can use to get started with MU. MU is an inexpensive add-on if you already have a LEGO Mindstorms EV3 set though. We'll look at how MU works with LEGO in a future post as there's a lot to explore.

We really like the idea of using MU with existing tech toys. It would be great to have a setup process so you can configure MU with the remote control from an existing toy with the same type of movements rather than requiring custom firmware for every kind of robot. 

The process of getting MU to work with a HEXBUG spider was very straightforward. If you have one of the MU toys that HEXBUG currently supports then adding a MU to it is an inexpensive way to play around with machine vision. Don't expect perfect behaviour, but do expect to learn something about what's possible with machine vision using inexpensive hardware.

MU is available to buy from Morpx and on Amazon.





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Tech Age Kids | Technology for Children: Morpx MU for Toys Smart Eye for Toys Review - First Impressions
Morpx MU for Toys Smart Eye for Toys Review - First Impressions
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Tech Age Kids | Technology for Children
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