Dawn Robotics win national prize to develop low cost robot for use in schools

Issue date: 14 July 2015

The Dawn Robotics robot kit

Dawn Robotics, a business based in the Technology Business Incubator at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, has won a start-up grant from Jisc as part of its Elevator open innovation platform to develop its Raspberry Pi camera kit for use in schools.

Dawn Robotics director Alan Broun initially devised a low cost Raspberry Pi camera kit to help people learn how to build a robot and develop programming skills. He is excited at the potential this new funding will bring, in the hope it will enable more students in schools and universities to learn programming using robots.

The winning video pitch is available to view on the Dawn Robotics YouTube channel.

Alan Broun said, “We are delighted to win the competition as the funding will enable us to refine our robot kit and produce a range of educational materials such as lesson plans and tutorials. This will become a valuable and useful resource for teachers in schools and universities who want to teach their students programming, robotics and electronics.”

“Programming can be a rather dry and abstract subject. Robotics is a great way to show that digital programming can have real world effects! Students get quick feedback if their programs aren't working and the debugging process is really aided by trying to solve questions like, 'why is my robot driving into a wall?' or 'why is it turning the wrong way?' Robotics and robot control is also a great area for exploring applied maths.”

The Raspberry Pi is a powerful computer which can be used for computer vision and advanced Autonomous Intelligence. The Dawn Robotics camera robot kit is a platform for the Raspberry Pi that students can expand and adapt to conduct their own research.

The kit is currently available for sale on the Dawn Robotics website, and has to date targeted hobbyist users. Alan explains, “The current Raspberry Pi Camera Robot Kit gives people a platform for building a fun robot using the popular Raspberry Pi computer board, quickly and easily.

“The robot kit is easy to assemble and is supported by freely available, open source software that lets you drive the robot around using a tablet, mobile phone, or computer. In addition, the robot can be programmed for autonomous operation using a number of languages such as Python or JavaScript, and support is also planned for graphical languages such as Scratch and Blockly.”

Owen White, one of the judges of the technology start-ups category in Jisc's 2015 Summer of Student Innovation competition, said, “Alan has developed a series of apps that enable students to control their robot and - what really impressed us – he has already sold 700 of the kits online, not just to university students but also to older school-age students and to members of the general public. That proves that the idea has broad appeal and he is capitalising on this by working with a number of universities that offer outreach programmes into colleges and schools.”

Dawn Robotics will now begin development of freely available educational materials to use alongside the robot in the form of lesson plans exploring different aspects of robotics, combined with tutorials and example programs that students can follow themselves. I Improved assembly instructions will also be developed and there are plans to refine the kit and provide a boxed product suited for use in schools and universities.

Alan concludes, “We believe that it is important to have low cost affordable robots that students can do real and useful research on, and go from the stage where they are learning about robotics and programming to actually performing useful research themselves. Our kit will help to make this happen and inspire younger students in schools to become the roboticists of the future.”

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