I recently attended the NYC Maker Faire and was approached by many educators, group leaders, folks that run workshops and the like. Each one said the same thing verbatim, "We need a $30-$50 robot and a good teaching manual". Well, here at Rocket Brand Studios, we have heard you loud and clear.
I spent the months following the Maker Faire designing and perfecting the "Tadpole" based on the requests I heard: Simple, non-solder, inexpensive and with room to expand capabilities in the future. I am pleased to say, the Tadpole fits the bill with flying colors. Let's take a look:
I started with a "basic, standard" platform (motors, brain, sensor and batteries) and then set-off to see how much each component part could be made more simple and inexpensive -without sacrificing quality or using "odd-ball" parts that would cause confusion during assembly or use.
The Tadpole can be purchased as a bare chassis allowing you to use your own Arduino Uno or Duemilanove board (with motor driver shield), the "standard" Picaxe 28 board or Picaxe's new Shield Base system. You can configure the Tadpole to be used as a SpurtBot and skip the micro controller "brain" altogether instead teaching basic analog circuits to create line followers, light chasers and more.
If you are teaching a Saturday-morning workshop or the like, the Tadpole can come with "always-works" bump sensors and with pre-programmed micro controller boards allowing you to focus on assembly and with assurance that everyone will leave with a working robot in their hands. A typical workshop could be two hours or so and would allow ample time for assembly, discussion and coffee at the end.
If you find yourself with a bit more time, or you are say, a computer programming teacher, the "standard" tadpole package is probably what you are looking for. A chassis, brain and optical object sensor or line-follow sensor is included. Total time for assembly and programming can happen in as little as 2 hours with only very small tweaks to the included example code needed to adjust the sensors. After assembly, the chassis can be programmed and reprogrammed thousands and thousands of times.
From there, the sky's the limit. The basic Tadpole package can be expanded as far as your own programming skills or with the addition of accessories. Control via remote control or an Android phone are possible. You can learn mapping and navigation, data logging or even draw pictures with an optional pen holder. Two (or more) Tadpoles can communicate and perform tasks together. Truly, the only limit is your imagination.
This is what you are looking for if you intend to use your own micro controller and motor driver board. This is a good option if you are an established club or organization and are familiar with hobbyist robots in general. You get the laser-cut chassis, motors, battery holder, hardware and even the breadboard. Add your "standard" Arduino or Picaxe 28x board and you are all set.
* If you want the tadpole to fit the board you are already using, I would be happy to modify the chassis to fit the screw pattern of your particular board --Just ask!
Chassis and Brain:
This option gives you the basic chassis and adds either a Dagu Mini Driver or Micro Magician board. These boards were selected for their awesome cost-to-features ratio and are both great choices for the Tadpole. The Mini Driver board is about as simple as they come, while still including a beefy motor driver and a USB connection on-board. The Micro Magician is an upgrade to the Mini Driver, including a accelerometer and an IR sensor (works with any TV remote control) as well as an Atmega168 brain giving you a bit more room to store larger programs. No sensor is included with this kit
The "standard" package, as I would call it, is a chassis, brain and sensor. You can choose from the simple Mini Driver Board or the fancy-schmancy Micro Magician board and you also get a choice of sensor --Obstacle for autonomous drive or a line follow sensor for well, following lines. This is a complete robot capable of autonomous drive.
How to Buy:
Purchasing could not be easier and educational discounts are available. If you are an educator of any kind or if you are helping groups of folks make stuff in any way, you qualify for a discount -No secret handshake required. Simply email email@example.com and ask for your coupon code. This code can be applied at checkout and will cover your whole order.
**Please Note: The "Tadpole" and "Tadpole Educational" are identical platforms. The only difference being the fact that the educational version is available only in clear (transparent acrylic) and the acrylic itself is an itty-bitty bit thinner than the color version. This allows me to purchase the acrylic in greater bulk and thus, keep costs down. All accessories, code and tutorials will work with both units.