Kids/Babies Maker/Development

The SBrick Plus hides STEM education inside toy bricks

As a child, there’s not much better than having a full set of Legos to go to town on. As adults, there isn’t much out there as fondly remembered as the classic building blocks. Now, with the explosion of IoT technology, the SBrick Plus take clicking together plastic bricks up a notch.

The sequel to the successfully funded SBrick back in 2014, the SBrick Plus is a Bluetooth-enabled brick placed into Lego models to control them remotely using a smart device like a phone, tablet, gamepad or PC. What’s more, the SBrick Plus uses sensors from the WeDo 1.0 family that can be programmed in several languages and track variables like tilt and proximity for fun uses in model planes, for example. What the SBrick really allows for are dynamic educational experiences in the home and in the classroom, something the team behind the product facilitates with a series of lessons designed to teach the fundamentals of programming and robotics.

Connected Objects Imaging Maker/Development Sensors/IoT

Sweep eyes an opportunity for affordable LIDAR sensors

LIDAR sensor technology is being used in a growing number of products. For example, these sensors serve as the eyes of self-driving car, enabling them to detect other objects on the road. LIDAR scanners are sold on their own, but they tend to be too pricey for the average consumer, sometimes coming in at more than $1,000.

Sweep is an inexpensive scanning LIDAR sensor for consumer applications including high school robotics projects. digital art and drones. It can also be used to get the dimensions of a room much faster than it would take when using a tape measure. It can also be used to detect when somebody walks through a doorway or tries to touch something they shouldn’t. Sweep uses sensing technology that differs from most other LIDAR sensors on the market –- a technique that enables it to use lower power components to perform long-range measurements.

Robots/Drones Tablet Accessories

EMotion helps move telepresence robotics into more affordable territory

editors-choiceTelepresence robots allow people who are away from home to check in on their pets and make sure burglars haven’t broken in. Regular viewers of the TV show The Good Wife know that telepresence robots can also be used to take part in office meetings when users are home sick or on a business trip. Such devices can also conceivably be used so that sick kids don’t miss important lessons at school. One major problem so far has been that these devices are too costly.

EMotion is designed to be a more affordable option for consumers who want a telepresence robot. The moving robotic device works in conjunction with iPads or Android tablets. Additional functions that can be done with it include video chatting with friends and family via services such as FaceTime or Skype. EMotion ships in June at $599, although early bird Kickstarter backers can get one for a pledge starting at about $178. Its makers hope to raise $48,146 by March 3.

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.

Maker/Development Toys

TinkerBots enlivens your Legos, offers simple robotics introduction

The Premise. Children and parents alike love construction toys because of the way that they manage to be fun while fostering creativity in developing minds. As robotics become easier to manufacture and more cost-effective, the delight of bringing these creations to life is too much to ignore.

The Product. TinkerBots is the next in a line of robotic building toys for children, though these are designed to be easier than ever. Using an Arduino platform as its base, each TinkerBots creation starts with the Power Brain, a block that provides information and power to any product. From there, a variety of blocks can be connected, from legs to wheels, and there are even adapters to allow standard Lego blocks to be attached. A simple press of the record button and a movement of each of the parts will allow the Power Brain to record the action and recreate it, hands-free.

The Pitch. It’s easy to see that Kinematics is passionate about blending fun and learning. By framing the toy as a stepping stone to familiarizing children with technology they will most likely need in their future careers, TinkerBots is framed as an educational tool while still looking enjoyable to play and experiment with. The campaign photos provide almost an instruction manual to using and building with TinkerBots for those that need a little more guidance. To reach the market, Kinematics will need $100,000 in pledges to continue to grow the TinkerBots platform.

The Perks. Because of the inherently modular nature of TinkerBots, there are a number of reward tiers for backers, starting with the Basic Wheeler Set that will allow backers to build simple wheeled robots for $159. Those who prefer to make animal-style creations can get the Basic Animal Set for $229. Advanced, more inclusive sets are available for $299, an IR sensor set is available for $329, sets with grabbing arm attachments are $399, and the Sensoric Mega Set is $499.

The Potential. Robotics sets for children are nothing new, but TinkerBots greatly brings down the cost and complexity down a notch from something like Lego’s latest MindStorms starter kit. What makes TinkerBots so unique though is the lack of high-level programming involved. While usually that requirement is sold as a feature designed to teach kids skills, the learning by example of TinkerBots will make creating and playing that much more natural and fun, and at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to excite and enrapture children of all ages.