Your kids will fill the brain of the creepy Ohbot2 robot head

Introducing young learners to concepts of coding and robotics are noble efforts, increasingly becoming more necessary as time passes with society’s growing dependency on technology.

Ohbot’s Ohbot2 is a robotic face with seven different servo motors that control parts such as its eyeballs and mouth. The creators envision its use a personable interface kids will instantly attach to and then program using Ohbot2’s simple, graphical programming interface. It may not be C+ or Python, but that’s not important: Ohbot2’s use in classrooms with young learners gives kids the fun, engaging opportunity to see how code affects real objects rather than regulating it to abstract environments.

Maker/Development Video Games

Play the specters of gaming past with the Spectrocade Raspberry Pi mini-arcade cabinet

Although they may be known as retro games, many people even today still harbor a deep fondness for them. Titles like Ms. Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Galaga quicken heartbeats in remembrance of the many hours spent dumping quarters into machines attempting to get the highest score.

While there exists many ways for someone to get their retro gaming fix, Spectrum Technology Solutions is looking to give people another choice with its Spectrocade. The product is a miniature arcade cabinet equipped to work together with a Rapsberry Pi, making it wholly customizable in which games can be emulated, no matter the availability. This isn’t the case for those who may use popular mini arcade cabinets that work with iPads or similar tablets, as their app stores may not have what they’re looking for. However, that flexibility comes at the price of simplicity; $541 is a lot pricier than those toys. It’s slated to ship in August 2015. Spectrum Technology Solutions is hoping to raise $22,000 by June 17th, 2015.

The Spectrocade gets points for working with a Raspberry Pi, but is unimaginative and priced like it isn’t. In addition, a lack of headphone jack or even a fourth button on the pad are obvious design flaws that should be included. The use of acrylic as the product’s material of choice rather than something else a bit more environmentally friendly rounds out a spotty execution.


mDrawBot is the Transformer that took up an art career

Makeblocks give intrepid DIYers a versatile assortment of parts to make whatever kind of robots they can dream up, all in conjunction with components like Raspberry Pi or an Arduino board.

Now, the same team behind Makeblocks has come up with mDrawBot. mDrawBot is a kit of specific Makeblocks used in conjunction with a proprietary Arduino board. Together, they can be used to create a 4-in-1 drawing robot capable of fulfilling whatever artistic impulses one can think up. The product’s hands-on nature may scare off some, but it’s all worth it when one considers that the mDrawBot can be configured into four different forms. The first is the mSpider, which can draw and paint on any vertical surface, and whose string lengths are adjustable to increase its range.

Its second form is the mScara, used to draw on paper with an installed pen, or engrave on material like wood if a laser diode is installed. Its third form is mEggBot, used solely with eggs and other oval-shaped objects similar to eggs. Lastly, its final form is the mCar, used to draw on the floor. The kit’s versatility promises to be extremely useful in a number of varied, albeit specific, situations. Even if the DIY nature of mDrawBot is challenging to some, the product holds a lot of appeal for others.

A standard mDrawBot kit costs $179, and is compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux. A May 2015 ship date is dependent of the success of its $50,000 campaign goal which ends on May 28.




RoboCORE cloud-powered device and development platform opens the door to innovative robotics

Robotics as a hobby is becoming increasingly popular due to the the availability of development platforms such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi. These platforms are inexpensive and extremely customizable, making them especially suited to tinkerers everywhere. Their biggest problems are their lack of power underneath the hood, along with the offline-only limits that stifle all sorts of possibilities.

The RoboCORE is a cloud-powered device and development platform that combines hardware and software into one, streamlining the process for creating all sorts of inventions. It isn’t dependent on any particular mechanics system, so it can paired with anything from Legos to custom metal constructions—the only limitation being the skill and imagination of the person working with it. The RoboCORE’s Intel Edison CPU facilitates the control of both autonomous and remotely-controlled constructions, along with the attached modules, motors, sensors, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi within them. In the right hands, powerful robots can be created, running the gamut from telepresence to connected lawnmowers.

The beauty of the platform is its wireless capability, allowing users to program and control their creations from anywhere using web, Android, or iOS apps that take advantage of Web IDE. The company’s C/C++ proprietary robotics framework, titled hFramework, does the heavy lifting—although users can opt to code in Python as well. None of the advanced knowledge is needed for basic creations, though, as programming templates are available to get those interested started right way.

RoboCORE is another product aiming to streamline the necessities that a maker demands, but that is something a product like Mono does as well. As engaging and helpful as the RoboCORE can be, it will have a tough time garnering attention among a sea of other, more established development platforms.

A RoboCORE with an Intel Edison is awarded for $159, but early birds can grab one for less. The $50,000 campaign is looking to raise the funding by March 13, and expects to get the product out in the summer of this year.

Connected Objects Toys

Arduino-based 3DRacer allows for 3D-printed racing

The rising popularity of electronics platforms like Raspberry Pi and Arduino, combined with the power of 3D printing, have added a new dimension to the racing toys of yesteryear.

The Arduino-based 3DRacer offers race junkies a bite-sized replica of the real thrill. Having designed their ride using the online 3DRacer tool, users can opt to print out the parts themselves, or have the company’s partner 3D Hubs print them instead. Once assembled, the pre-programmed Arduino board can be inserted to work in tandem with the companion smartphone app using a Bluetooth connection.

The included PVC mat makes any room in the home a racetrack, complete with app-controlled lap counter, pit stops, and a battle mode. Since everything is open source, more intrepid tinkerers have the option of creating an endless amount of cars, tuning the performance of each to suit their needs.

The product’s options seem unnecessarily complicated. The company would do well to simplify their offerings to appeal to a greater group of people. For youngsters, the product’s DIY nature may prove a little daunting, but it could end up being an effective stepping stone to light programming and robotics.

For $65, backers get their own customized car, and $129 throws in the track. The $25,000 campaign is slated to have the products out and shipped by September of this year.

Cell Phone Accessories

Indi robotic dock waves arms to signal you have a phone call

The problem with putting a mobile phone in vibrate mode is that the user will often miss an important call, especially when the phone is kept on a desk at work and there is no way to feel or hear the vibration. The Indi robotic phone dock from a U.K. inventor is attempting to resolve that issue.

The dock has a set of robotic arms that signal when a phone call is coming in. The device consists of a docking unit containing an Arduino micro-controller and an app that users will be prompted to download the first time they plug it into a phone. Initially, the device will only support Android phones, but iPhone support is on its way. Backers who pledge £35 (~$53) will get one when it ships in May as part of an early bird discount deal on its Kickstarter campaign. Indi’s maker is hoping to raise £2,500 (~$3,800).

Indi is a clever spin on the traditional phone dock. It could be especially useful to hard-of-hearing smartphone users. But one inherent drawback is that it is only useful when the user is stationary. Even then, however, if the user is busy, it is possible that person won’t see the small robotic dock’s arms moving when a phone call comes in.


Pi Watch open source smartwatch makes room for teeny Arduino board, microSD slot

As many cool and exciting things the smartwatches on the market allow users to do, at the end of the day they’re locked into their own hardware and software. This ultimately limits their use to only what the company behind it intends, and limits the imagination of those who buy it. As a result, consumers may have some of the most advanced tech on their wrist, but they basically have no clue how it works.

A big problem lies in the motivation to learn, something the Pi Watch does a good job of creating. The star of the show is the onboard, Arduino-ready Teensy 3.1, a powerful platform that supports a wide array of programming initiatives with the help of integrated Bluetooth 4.0, an accelerometer, magnometer, microphone, buzzer, and infrared transmitter. A bright and round 220 pixel TFT LCD brings it all together, offering users 160 pixels per inch and a 10-point touch ring surrounding it for both pre-programmed and custom gestures.

So far, the Pi Watch has demonstrated light video playback, the ability to be a password keeper, the control of televisions with the infrared transmitter, and the ability to play custom games. A lot more content can be created and added to the watch with the help of the microSD card slot, even if the 480mAh rechargeable battery may not last as long as users may hope. The $119 Pi Watch is expected to ship in March of 2015 should its campaign successfully reach its $50,000 goal.

For the most part, the Pi Watch is being presented as a learning tool, evident in its less than stellar aesthetics. But it serves the purpose of engaging in the technology hands-on and follows the lead of other open source platforms like the RaspiTab, Pi-Top, and Novena, this time with a wearable, an exciting opportunity for many tinkerers.


Tiny Mono provides development platform potential

Sometimes, our smart devices are a little too smart for what we want to do and a little too rigid for the intrepid among us. This makes merely tinkering with the different platforms in our lives pretty much impossible. Innovations like Arduino boards and Raspberry Pis lets buffs realize their ideas, but they can easily get out of hand and end up with nothing but a jumble of wires.

The one difficult thing when it comes to creation is testing out the idea, but the Mono makes it easy to do just that. The tiny device comes equipped with a 2.2″ TFT touch display, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an accelerometer, and a temperature sensor. Mono is a gadget as much as it is a development platform. As such, it’s completely open source, so it can act as an interface for other, custom ideas, or act on its own. By downloading tailored apps from the MonoKiosk app store, Mono can act as a one-touch light for Phillips Hue connected bulbs, or can display weather forecasts, for example. A single, fully loaded Mono goes for kr710 (~$119), and is expected in May 2015. The campaign is looking for kr500,000 (~$83,300) in funding.

In and of themselves, the applications touted by the Mono seem fairly tame, but its potential is really in how makers end up utilizing it. An expansion connector on the device’s back allows for increased utility such as connected power, a 3.5mm carries multiple digital and analog signals, and an SD card slot really gets the mind going when it comes to how much programming and data a single 32GB card can hold. All this tech in the hands of the right person can result in comparable, more innovative products than those on the market now, all at a fraction of the cost.

Tech Accessories Technology

Mooltipass builds on Arduino to store your passwords

Digital security is a double-edged sword. Making passwords and credentials more complicated and harder to crack means that it becomes more difficult to gain unauthorized access. On the other hand, it also makes those same credentials harder to remember. As a result, too many people use simple passwords or reuse the same passwords across multiple sites and programs.

The Mooltipass goes a step further, preventing the possibility of passwords and credentials being breached using a software-based solution. With three-step authentication, the Mooltipass protects passwords and logins like almost no other solution. First, the physical Mooltipass needs to be connected to the device being used. Second, a smart card with that user’s information needs to be inserted, and, finally, a PIN needs to be entered to authenticate access for that specific card.

The smart card method allows for multiple users to use the same Mooltipass without gaining access to each other’s accounts, and also keeps data and access secure even if the Mooltipass itself is taken. Additionally, the Mooltipass can be customized and used to create a number of different functions using the Arduino platform that can be easily accessed by more advanced users. Mooltipass has a very specific goal to reach of $109,112, mostly to fund production. A Mooltipass with two smartcards will be shipped in March to backers who pledge $140.

The Mooltipass may seem like a lot of extra technology to lug around just to login to email and social media, but those who insist on proper security measures will love the three-step secure hardware-based authentication. Businesses who require strict confidentiality and security will want to get on the ground floor of this product for its security and its flexibility.

Automotive Connected Objects

CANBus Triple opens a dialogue between car and driver

There’s something inherently frustrating about the “check engine” light on cars. Inside of each modern car is a computer that monitors all of the giant machines systems running in tandem, and if something goes wrong, all the driver gets to see is a little orange light letting them know that something, anything, could be wrong.

CANBus Triple is an Arduino-based device that can tap into the communication that the car’s computer sends and receives and relay that information to the driver. Whether using a custom-made gauge, a laptop, or bypassing the wires that lead to the digital dashboard display, CANBus can monitor a number of different factors like air-fuel ration and passenger weight and relay that information to the driver easily and in real-time.

For the casual driver, this may sound like a godsend, but CANBus Triple isn’t exactly the most user-friendly device. Nor is it going to be an adequate solution no matter how much Top Gear one watches. CANBus Triple is for car hackers, the kind of auto enthusiasts that know how to get every last drop of power and performance from their vehicle. Created by Michigan-based engineer Derek Kuschel, CANBus Triple has been beta tested by the car hacking community and with $18,000 worth of support, is ready for open sale. The device costs $75 and ships out in November 2014.

The CANBus Triple is an auto-lover’s dream, a way to feel a closer sense of connection with one’s vehicle and a way to truly speak the car’s language. It may have a steep learning curve and a bit of an entry barrier, but for those that know they want this device, they’ve wanted something that can do this for a long time. The Arduino architecture only makes it better by making new features possible all the time.