• The Little Swarmbuddies That Could: Robotics Course Emphasizes Creativity in Engineering


    Last year we covered a drawing robot arm by NarwhalEdu, and they’re back with a new robot that dances to music.

    Today, NarwhalEdu is launching a second class that uses a Khan-Academy-meets-robots approach to teaching engineering at the high school level and up, with some programming experience required. The robots this time are called Swarmbuddies and fit in the palm of your hand. They are controlled wirelessly over bluetooth low energy and an Android and iPhone application is provided so that out of the box they can blink and move along to music or more directly with a graphical interface.


    The team of two MIT graduates came up with this latest idea while watching Kmel robotics‘ quadcopter formations. The wanted to make a lower-cost ground-based robot that could do similar things — create cool formations when you have more than one of them. To create the formations, they use the open-source Swistrack software and an inexpensive generic external USB webcam. They hope that creative and exciting engineering projects will encourage diverse students to pursue an interest in STEM (science, technology, and engineering) fields.

    They released their last design files as open source on github and say they will do so this time as well when they ship.


    “The course has less mechanical tearing apart this time, the programming approach allow for cool results quite fast. You send it rgb and servo values and the processing is all on the computer side, so it can be programmed to work with almost anything (Scratch? Logo? all possible!).”

    Their last course reached nearly 100 students, the results of which can be seen in this public kickstarter update, and they are excited to work with even more students this time around.

    Check out the cool gif demos at The Little Swarmbuddies that Could by NarwhalEdu on Kickstarter, or, for more on their project, see NarwhalEdu.com, their website.




  • Spor: Changing how we power devices

    Spor Chargers
    David Hunt and his co-founders at Spor are pursuing a big vision. They’re changing how devices are powered.
    I recently had an opportunity to chat with David about the company as well as the successes and challenges they’ve met along the way. They’re still early in the game, but they’ve done some impressive work.
    David Hunt of Spor
    Q: How was Spor born?
    The idea originated with my co-founder Jason. He initially wanted to power an Arduino project using solar energy and found that he could power other devices with similar technology. When I came onboard, we continued evolving the idea and eventually sought to power mobile devices.
    Q: How did you meet your co-founder and early team members?
    Jason and I went to the same university, which is where we met. We got together to enter our school’s annual business plan competition with the idea. Our Chief Creative Officer, Troy, was part of Jason’s fraternity and we found our CTO, Adrian, via a post on Reddit. The CTO was interested in solar tech and loved the idea.
    Q: How did you guys build your first prototype?
    The work on our first prototype started about 2 months before the business plan competition, but funding was a challenge at that time, so progress was slow. Also, Jason was building the prototype even though he didn’t have a background in engineering. He was figuring things out as he went. Fortunately, he had access to prototyping tools since he was working out of a maker space called NextFab.
    We ended up winning the business plan competition, which netted us $10k in capital and a working space. From that point, development accelerated and we were able to finish the prototype in 1.5 months.
    Q: What made you guys decide to crowd-fund? 
    [Note: Check out the Spor Chargers KickStarter campaign here]
    Crowdfunding aligns well with our values. We want to build a community-oriented brand and maintain a high level of transparency. KickStarter provides a useful platform for audience engagement and the ability to give people an inside looking into our founding team and the product. We’d like to get the product directly into the hands of users early on and earn their advocacy. This is important to us because we have a grander vision of delivering energy to both the developed and developing worlds.
    Q: What are some of the product challenges you’ve faced along the way?
    The biggest challenge has probably been the number of options available. We can get components from everywhere. How do we know if the quality is there? How do we know if the difference in cost is worth it? We’ve had parts that arrive broken and parts that break after a week.
    A second challenge is related to people. You really need high-quality people on your team. I know everyone says this, but I can’t overstate how critical it is. We’re fortunate to have a dedicated founding team with diverse, comlimentary skills.
    Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with your crowdfunding campaign?
    Oh man… where to start?! There’s so much content we could add, but we need to keep it clean and simple.
    The team also needs to keep in sync about who’s responsible for what. There was a point where we mistakenly thought each other was answering questions and a few went unanswered for a couple days. Keeping up with comments and messages is really important.
    Morale can be a challenge too. Even though the campaign is only open for a month, there are lots of ups and downs.
    One of the biggest challenges was with initial reach. Timing was rough. We launched the campaign two days before an entrepreneurship event we were pitching at. We thought we were going to have a chance to pitch a large community, but it turned out that the attendees broke down into small groups for the sessions. Retrospectively, we launched too soon. We had to backtrack and find key influencers to engage via social media. We should have built more relationships and a following in advance of launching the campaign.
    Q: Where can people learn more about Spor Chargers?
    Check out our campaign on KickStarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/spor/spor-solar-battery-chargers-usb-cables-and-accesso. We’d love your support whether pledging or spreading the word. You can also find us at http://www.sporchargers.com/.