I finished running a Wrekshop for kids with a Year 4 class near Bridgend (UK). A typical Wrekshop combines creative taking apart and reconstruction of electronic waste with coding. The kids made sort of robots from electronic waste. For the coding aspect I decided to use the recently released BBC Micro:bits. Micro:bits are small, child-friendly programmable devices developed by the BBC, the University of Lancaster, Microsoft and other partners.
micro:bit in a scrap robot’s “brain socket”
The BBC and partners are aiming to generate an enthusiasm for coding in young people similar to what happened when the original BBC Microcomputer was released in 1981. A generation of British coders learned their skills on this flexible machine (and me 15 years later). Unlike current computers or tablets, the user had to code so as to get the best of the machine’s possibilities.
I used Micropython to finalise the programs for the class, not an ideal solution for the children who were used to the block editor, but the only way so far for including speech in the project. The kids were keen to get their robots to speak.
Unfortunately the Block Editor is only available online, which can be seriously limiting if you have no or slow internet access. For more advanced users I recommend the MU editor, a self-contained, downloadable MicroPython programming environment that works very well.
The crocodile clips connections system, although a good idea, makes it easy to short-circuit the board as the 3 Volts and Ground holes are next to each other. The clips can also easily cross-connect adjacent pins. Most 8 year olds do not find it straightforward to use crocodile clips and several of the boards used in the project have suffered already. Still, with a little care it works fine.
I went to Flowering Elbow‘s open day on Saturday. It took about 90 minutes to drive from Cardiff, and I finally arrived on top of a hill near Carmarthen where Sam and Steve have built a workshop extension to an existing farm building. Lots of TLC and sustainable design principles have gone into the building, as well as an impressive array of metal and wood machining tools.
Theme for the day was wood, and I chose to make a casing for a prototype small amplified speaker powered by a supercapacitor array. Steve and Sam suggested different bits of timber. I settled on geometrically challenging but good looking holly cuts that they gathered from a hedge nearby sometime ago. I used a bandsaw and a scary table saw to make small holly panels. There was no time to assemble the case, it is now on my homework to-do list.
I totally recommend attending Flowering Elbow’s next open day, Steve and Sam are very welcoming and knowledgeable, and they are keen to share skills and ideas. I have invited them to come to my studio soon, and spend a day on electronics and small scale digital fabrication.
Flowering Elbow team: Sam and Steve in their workshop
Working at the table saw
Holly case for a small audio amplified speaker
Log laundry basket in progress
Hand-made stove from recycled gas canisters
Peltier fan spins and spins
Riding the train back from Swansea, UK, just delivered a talk to fine-art students, with a strong contextual part about contemporary technology and progress.
Good response from the students, they seem to share some level of technological anxiety. I told them about my take on the co-evolution of humans and machines and the four families of outcomes I categorised:
* the terminator, machines take over and eradicate
* the pripyat, after massive permanent techno-natural disaster(s) the global ecosystem recovers unhindered. Remaining humans, if any, go back to hunting-gathering (for a while).
* the amped, humans integrate machines internally, becoming hybrids for the next step of human evolution, homo-cyborg
* the teddy, human, robots and other machines benefit to each other’s well-being in harmony. This option includes best practice in agriculture, sustainability, social development, bio-engineering…
In my view, the future will be more complex than any of these outcomes, likely a combination.
The team at Flowering Elbow have an open day at their cool workshop in Carmarthen on Saturday 25th January. A great opportunity to mingle with makers, share tips, play with recycled goods, open source electronics, wood and metal….