When I was writing my book of simple robotics projects for kids, one of my goals was to include profiles of inspiring young robot makers. So it was only natural that I would feature Erin Kennedy — also known as RobotGrrl. Kennedy, who hails from Montreal, has been building robots since she was in high school, and has made a name for herself among the Maker community.
This week she launched an Indiegogo campaign for RoboBrrd, her award-winning educational robotics kit, and I’m excited! RoboBrrd is designed to give kids and other beginners the hands-on experience of mechanical and electrical engineering, and programming, with room for your own imagination.
As Kennedy says in the Indiegogo video, RoboBrrd has come a long way since its humble beginnings. She has told me that because she was working on a shoestring she put all her funds into the electronics and servo gears needed to make RoboBrrd move and respond to commands. So for the body, she got creative and employed common craft materials like felt, pencil erasers and ping pong balls. Now that she’s using a laser cutter to build RoboBrrd’s frame, it’s much more robust — a big consideration when you’re designing for kids. But she still uses felt and glitter to give each RoboBrrd its own personality.
Kennedy has also just launched a RoboBrrd website, complete with video tutorials, a community forum, and online games. The standard kit can easily be expanded with various sensors and actuators. At World Maker Faire New York this year, Kennedy was showing off hats with an NFC tag. Each hat produced a different behavior in the robot. Neat!
The RoboBrrd Indigogo campaign runs through December 5, and has a funding goal of $10,668; it’s already raised over $3,000. Perks for contributors include laser-cut tokens and a DIY chassis. For $114 you can also receive the electronics you need to build your own model. At higher levels, supporters can get a RoboBrrd in various stages of pre-assembly and customization. Everything has been field-tested with hundreds of kids at Maker Faires around North America.
It’s a project well worth supporting, but don’t just take my word for it. Education writer Chris Connors of O’Reilly Media first met Erin at World Maker Faire New York in 2011, where he made the video below. Here’s what he told me:
She’s done quite a bit with the project. It was awesome before. Now it is really, really awesome. What was all Popsicle sticks and glue is now laser cut, and she took her circuitry from Arduino to making her own circuit board. To hear her talk in the video, you can really get a sense of how deep her understanding about people, robots and making things is. Just after shooting the video I gave her my last Editors’ Choice award.