Update: mOwayduino’s Indiegogo campaign has now gone live.
If you grew up in the 80s you might recall Big Track: a programmable kids robo-truck that could be made to perform a handful of actions, like moving a set number of units in a certain direction, firing a faux laser or tipping out the contents of its dumper truck at a pre-set destination (assuming your parents’ had shelled out for that accessory).
Well, Big Track mostly sucked but only because the concept was ahead of what the technology could affordably deliver. Playing with Big Truck meant repeatedly driving into walls as you underestimated the number of units required to negotiate the space between the kitchen table and the door. What the toy maker got right was that kids are easily excited about robotics. Fast forward a few decades and enter mOwayduino: programmable Arduino-based robot toys designed to be used in conjunction with mobile apps (e.g for radio controlling the device via the phone’s accelerometer) plus hardware add-ons — creating a rich environment for learning by playing around with hardware and software building blocks.
Or that’s the idea. At the moment, mOwayduino is at the concept/prototyping stage. The Spanish company behind the project is apparently aiming to crowdfund the idea via Indiegogo. For now, you can register your interest via their website. Update: mOwayduino’s makers say the Indiegogo campaign to fund production will launch in less than two weeks. “If we succeed, in three months, it will be on market. For people supporting the Indiegogo project, mOwayduino will be available at a special price,” the company tells TechCrunch. “If we exceed the money we need for the production, we will develop a graphical programming app for tablets.” It also intends to have an open API for users to develop their own apps.
The basic design of the mOwayduino robot looks a bit like a desk-mounted pencil-sharpener that’s wandered away from its duties. On the base there are three wheels to facilitate free, circular turning movements. Each robot then has various on-board lights and sensors (line sensor, light sensor, obstacle sensor, microphone, speaker etc) plus a USB-rechargeable battery that’s good for two hours of use.
Then, up top are expansion slots where additional modules can be plugged in to augment and extend its powers. For instance, there will be a vision system expansion module for capturing real-time images and sending them to a PC screen. (Just imagine the apps you could create to spy on your siblings!) Another planned expansion module adds Wi-Fi so the robot could be controlled from a mobile device or send emails when it has completed certain tasks.
The combination of a feature-rich basic robot unit plus the ability to augment and extend functionality — with support for programming via Ardunio IDE, Phyton, Java and the kid-friendly Scratch language, and the ability for multiple mOwayduinos to talk to each other and operate in sync — suggests this tech will easily kick Big Track’s ass. Or it will if it gets off the ground.
mOwayduino follows in the footsteps of other learning focused hardware such as the Raspberry Pi microcomputer. Key to the latter device’s success has been its low price tag so it will be interesting to see what price-tag mOwayduino will carry. Hopefully the base units won’t be prohibitively expensive so that kids can get their home-hacking on.