Our favourite holiday tech activities

Our favourite holiday tech activities

We hope you liked our favourite robotics toys.  We’d like to share some fun robotics activities you can do with kids of all ages. They’re perfect as a low pressure, fun way to explore science. 

robot painting /drawing

This is a really fun way to mesh coding and art. Check out our YouTube channel to see it in action. Felt tips, watercolours and acrylic paint work well, although acrylics get messy!

This activity works wonderfully with some of our favourite robots:

The CrumbleBot - ideal for drawing because of the optional pen holder. [buy on 4Tronix]

mBot - best for painting because of its greater weight. [Buy on amazon]

Electronics dissection

I know you haven’t spent your hard earned money on toys to simply destroy them, but pick up a cheap radio controlled toy for about £10 and spend an hour taking it apart.  It’s great fun and there are so many interesting parts to see. 

If you're feeling adventurous then try wiring the components back up to see if you can make the motors go or the lights turn on.

Light painting

The perfect festive tech activity! Here we use a slow shutter smartphone app to capture the path a robot takes. You can produce some really cool photos like this.

Tip: darken the room for a stronger effect.

We've found the iOS app Slow shutter (£1.99 in the UK) to be the best app so far.

Here's some of our handiwork.

Merry Christmas.

Sphero Painting

Sphero Painting

Head on over to our YouTube channel to see our latest activity: Sphero Painting!

https://youtu.be/sroZqLzLiBU

The Sphero was one of our picks for robotics toys this Christmas and we've had a lot of fun putting it through its paces. [Amazon Link]

This was really fun, and a little messy. If you're keen to have a go at home we'd suggest

  1. Put your paper in the bottom of a cardboard box. Protect those carpets!
  2. Use acrylic paint, it's water-based.
  3. Don't use too much paint, it will all mix into a muddy mess.
  4. Make 3 paintings at least, they look great on the wall next to each other.
  5. Watch the video for a neat clean-up tip.

Finally a big well done to everyone who came to our workshop on Saturday, the robot painting project was great fun and you got some wonderful results.

 

Robotics Toys

Robotics Toys

This article at The Wire Cutter made me think about some of our favourite robotics kit.

Running our workshops we come across some outstanding science and tech related toys. I'd like to tell you about a few of them. 'Tis the season after all!

1 Your first Robot - The CrumbleBot

Buy the Crumblebot here and make sure your order the controller chip which is sold separately.

New to coding? We use the CrumbleBot from 4Tronix at our workshops and they're a great piece of kit. Snappy to program using a visual, block-based language similar to Scratch the Crumblebot is equipped with plenty of sensors allowing it to follow lines on the floor, seek dark places and light up!

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Assembly will require some adult supervision and a screwdriver but help is at hand: see our how-to video on our YouTube channel.

2 The Upgrade Pick - Sphero

Buy the Sphero at Amazon

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Pricier, cuter and programmable with a tablet. The Sphero is an exceptionally swish offering; no assembly and a wireless charging station make this a very elegant and impossibly fun robot. If you're not in the mood for coding you can put the tablet app in drive mode and simply use it as a remote controlled toy.

 

3 For more Advanced users - mBot

Buy the mBot at Amazon

 

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This is a bigger, more sturdy kit which runs wonderfully out of the box. The mBot comes pre-programmed with 3 modes: line following, remote control, or obstacle avoidance to give you an idea of its abilities. The mBot is controlled with an Arduino controller and to begin with a tablet-based app is the easiest way to get started with coding. For more advanced work block-based or text-based coding is possible but requires a laptop and USB cable.

Assembly is quick and easy and the tablet app make the beginning stages of coding easy. The jump to the desktop mBlock app introduces a slope to the learning curve but opens up seriously rich possibilities for somebody serious about programming. C is the language of choice for the Arduino platform.

We use the mBot for painting with robots, its such a sturdy robot it can hold a paintbrush no problem!

4 Electronics kit - Snap Circuits

Buy Snap Circuits at Amazon

These are a wonderfully neat way to learn about electronics. These components clip together using the poppers normally found on jackets, no fiddly wires.

The instructions are good too. Clear enough that children around 9 and above can be expected to follow them themselves. Without instructions this kit is still extremely fun to play about with which we think a key test for educational toys.

Painting with robots

Painting with robots

We've been exercising our creative muscles over the weekend!

Creating art with robots can bring bizarre results. The unpredictability it brings can be really fun.

To control the messiness the robot is programmed not to go outside the black tape boundary which holds the paper down. Next paint is blobbed onto the paper and the robot buzzes over the canvas for about a minute. It's up to you to remove it once you're happy with the results!

There's a lot to play with, different types of brushes would be fun. Or perhaps a container for paint attached to the robot which drips paint!

We'll be adding a video to our YouTube channel on this soon, so stay tuned!

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Night at the Museum

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Night at the Museum

Last week I visited the Natural History Museum for their annual Science Uncovered event. If you haven't been or haven't heard about it then jot this down, it's really worth it.

You spend the evening attending talks, interviews and demonstrations by researchers.  A lot of people don't know that NHM is a working research centre, behind the scenes their collection of preserved plants and animals is estimated to hold 80 million specimens. Estimated? Yep, no one knows for sure.

The highlight of the evening for me was the Stars in Jars tour. You're shown around some of the specimen rooms by a very bubbly and enthusiastic guide. Thanks Katie!

Two things stood out, one gross, the other exciting. First the gross one, a giant squid preserved in formaldehyde (pictured), not a good looking (nor good smelling, apparently,) fellow but quite a thing to behold. 

The exciting one? A collection of specimens collected by Charles Darwin himself on the famous voyage of the Beagle. Darwin is reputed to have eaten some of the interesting species that he studied, fortunately the museum's specimens are reassuringly whole.

You don't have to wait until next year; the behind the scenes tour is available all the time. Highly recommended.

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Nobody knows

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Nobody knows

Forest Rings. Circles of low-density trees in the forest canopy visible from the air. Nobody knows what causes them...

Forest rings

It's not the same as the rings you sometimes see on grass, which are caused by a fungus growing outward as it exhausts nutrients in the soil.

Meteorite impacts? Volcanic activity?

Suggestions?

 

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Attention to Detail

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Attention to Detail

Core 77 have picked up a wonderful video looking at the design of spacesuits for movies. These are From Ridley Scott's latest Alien film.

link

Even though they're not going into space these suits have an amazing amount of tech in them.

  • built in ventilation fans
  • built in lights, displays etc
  • control circuitry which allows the director to adjust the suits' lights and other visible components all together.

Even the soles of the boots are imprinted with the logo of the Wayland Yutani Corporation logo, the best name for a company ever. Well second best.

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Worth Watching

This is a simply astounding display of cutting edge computer graphics at SIGGRAPH 2017.

How to paint like...

How to paint like...

Want a summer holiday project?

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA to it's friends, has a truly exceptional series of videos presented by Corey D'Augustine.

Each video is a breakdown of the methods used by various abstract artists. The one below is about Willem de Kooning.

I love how understanding the techniques involved really brings the art to life. Abstract Expressionism isn't always the easiest movement to get but watch a few of these and the ideas begin to come through.

Also note that these videos are often packed full of scientific concepts, solutions, solvents, emulsions, etc. The engineering/craft side of fine art is under appreciated in science education.

History of the Biro

Yes the Biro was invented by Lazlo Biro. Want to know why the company is called Bic?  Watch the video below.

The biro you hold in your hand today matches one made in 1950 down to the micrometer. 

Working with your hands

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Working with your hands

"The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on. Boasting is what a boy does, because he has no real effect in the world."   Matthew Crawford

I'm reading Matthew Crawford's book The Case for Working with your Hands: or Why Office Work is Bad for us and Fixing Things Feels Good.

Crawford has followed an interesting career path; after getting his Ph.D from Chicago he went to work for a think tank, dissatisfied he quit in under a year to open a motorcycle repair shop. The book is his account of the value of working with your hands. The above paragraph stood out.

The sense of agency and control that comes with hand-on activities is the reason we do what we do.

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