grabbersetby Nur Hussein, contributing writer

Imagine an interlocking toy that you could program; like Lego you can program. OK, that exists, in the form of Mindstorms which comes with a CPU bricks you can upload programs to. Imagine however, if programming was tactile  in nature, as tactile as playing with the bricks and parts themselves.

Enter Tinkerbots, an idea for such a toy that’s currently on a crowdfunding campaign. What started off as a university student project in Germany is now seeking your help to get a new generation of programmable robotic toys off the ground. At the time of this writing, they have already exceeded their goal of $100,000, and the numbers keep on climbing.

The robots work like this: there are motorized parts that interlock with other building blocks and these are used to build up a robot. The blocks are colorful and appealing to kids, and the biggest feature is how simple it is to program them. After building his or her robot, a child can “teach” it how to move just by moving it (while the central computer brick ‘learns’ by recording the movements). What this amounts to is the possibility of rapid iterative testing and development, and one so intuitively easy a child could do it.

The moving parts are a joint called the “pivot,” a rotator called the “twister,” and a robotic claw called the “grabber.”  There are IR and light sensors, and the CPU and power is housed in a block called the “power brain.” Apart from those there are the usual blocks and axles and wheels, plus an adaptor for attaching to Lego parts.

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Now if that was all there was to it, it’d be a novelty toy, but the robot parts are Arduino compatible and have apps on mobile devices that you can program more complex things on. The crowdfunding page mentions it’s possible to program the CPU in C, so that suggests extensibility and hackability, which makes this useful beyond a toy to something makers can use for rapid prototyping.

Do check out the project on Indiegogo, there are numerous spiffs for donors, so if you pitch in, you can be the first owners of the set. There are various wheeled bots, a robot arm, and walking robot animals to choose from.

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