World Maker Faire: Kids’ Tech Grows Up

There are now approximately eight million kits and snap-together modules aimed at children and beginners. But nostalgia was strong this weekend in New York: People are revisiting the tech tools they learned on, connecting their native technological languages with “grown-up” systems.

Bigger brains for your old-school calculator

I wrote my first program on a TI-83 Plus: a hulking lump of TI-BASIC that would convert input numbers between base-10 and binary, and then any case up to 10. So I was delighted to discover the Cemetech group, who develop and distribute hardware interfaces for graphing calculators!

ArTICL, for example, links your calculator with an Arduino or MSP432 board.

Augmented learning robots

Today’s kids are exploring through LEGO’s Mindstorms series — starting with the NXT and continuing through the newer EV3 models. Mindstorms are based on a central brain with cabled connections to sensors and actuators, all mounted on a completely custom buildable chassis. I’ve taught kids as young as kindergarten to assemble these robots and program them with the associated visual programming environment. Now, people who could have been in those classes are connecting Mindstorms with popular Maker boards, to build something smarter.

This robot employs mindsensors boards to connect EV3-system sensors with an NXT brain.

They’ve also hooked up what looks like an Arduino Pro Mini to manage everything. Sweet!

In fact, mindsensors had their own presence, bringing this PiStorms-powered cowardly bot. They’d programmed Sam to fear people: set him off, he’ll flip up his little arms and give you attitude. Of course, it doesn’t always work.

He’s accompanied by a robo-pup that barks and wags its little tail, and another critter that Blue-Man-Groupifies you.

The next generation

Of course, the NXP table held a cluster of micro:bits — the board that was distributed to an entire generation of students in the UK, which you can buy for about $15. It can be programmed using Microsoft’s block-based visual environments, MicroPython, and even JavaScript (a solid foundation for NodeBots). Plus, it comes with a built-in 5x5 LED matrix, accelerometer, and mag compass. With today’s kids growing up on such a sophisticated platform, I wonder how future makers will upgrade these: Bluetooth-to-telepathy expansion modules? Augmented-reality programming environments, where babies build code like block towers? A global penpal radio mesh? I can’t wait to see. :)

… Bonus nostalgia: PowerGlove-controlled giant dino robotics!!!

DIY robots, music, EEG, wearables, languages. FIRST alumna. Hardware Nerd @hacksterio. She/her

DIY robots, music, EEG, wearables, languages. FIRST alumna. Hardware Nerd @hacksterio. She/her