Make Stuff With Mindkits

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Arduini

Making things. It’s a bastion of New Zealand culture. We call it the “Number 8 Wire” mentality. Some would argue that the future of our economy relies on our ability to keep on with the makery. I love making stuff, and I love local kiwi company Mindkits, because they supply all sorts of electronic goodies to help you and me make anything we might put our minds to.

So it is my pleasure to announce that Mindkits and Ben.geek.nz are teaming up to give you a little bit of inspiration. Tim from Mindkits is giving away a SparkFun Arduino Starter Kit, and I’m going to throw in a dual motor gearbox, motor controller, and couple of tiny servos from my collection of RC bits. All you have to do is tell us what you would make if you had free reign of the Mindkits store room. Let your imagination run wild. We won’t make you prove you can build it (but we would love it if you did). If we get enough entries, we’ll put the top three (selected by Ben and Tim) up for a vote.

Step 1: Browse Mindkits

Have a look around at the items available. Arduino boards, Lilypads (for the laydees!), gearboxes and proximity sensors, LCD screens, carbon monoxide sensors, wifi transceivers … heck we’ll even let you branch out a bit and consider using Xbees.

Lara

Step 2: Tell us what you’d build

Tell us what you would construct using anything from Mindkits and your imagination. Go wild. Feel free to imagine up some magic parts too. Just tell us by leaving a comment below. What would it do? For fun or a serious endeavour? Points for imagination! Get your entries in by 8pm Sunday 8th November.

Step 4: Win!

Tim and I will choose the most creative and/or amusing entry. That person will win:

Further Reading:

What is Arduino?

Aduino Bike Jacket
Here's an idea!

Arduino is a physical computing platform based on a simple I/O board and a development environment that removes much of the complexity of programming and building self contained electronics projects powered by a micro-controller. You plug sensors and output into the board and it follows the instructions you give it tirelessly. So, you may want to build a project that clicks your camera whenever a beam is broken. You’d connect the beam and camera to the Arduino and give it instruction of what to do when the beam breaks. Voila!

If that sounds all to hard you can take comfort in there being a massive amount of information out there to make connecting things up and giving the board instructions a real pleasure (Mrs MindKits even build her own textile based Arduino projects).

MindKits? Who the..? What the..?

MindKitsMindKits is a small company run by Tim Carr that was born out of the passion for tinkering and building electronics and creative projects involving technology.
Tim noticed that although Kiwi’s have a fantastic culture of being ‘makers’ and ‘tinkerers’ building something out of nearly nothing there was very little to bring this cultural trait into todays language of microchips and circuit boards.

So, MindKits was born out of passion and a desire to make it easy for anyone to get started with building their own technology projects. MindKits are not just focused on providing the best priced electronics and Arduino, but also strong community and support.

  • We run community catch ups at an Auckland Pub to enable you to meet new people interested in tinkering with electronics projects
  • We have forums that enable you to ask questions and talk about the projects you’re building or would like to build
  • We run courses regularly to help you get started with building your Arduino based projects
  • We’ve also got some pretty cool new ideas which we’d love to share with you once they come together.

Ends.

Video: Robots and Tinkering

Here are the items I reviewed on TVNZ this morning. Click the image for the video.

Video robots Lego

Item: “Klutz” Science Books
Price:Various (generally $30-$40)
Rating: 4 / 5

Info: If you have a budding young scientist who is perhaps a bit too junior to be holding a soldering iron, books like the Klutz range are a great intro. The books come with a bunch of items on the front cover, from which you can build cars, boats or other mechanical contraptions. While doing so, the book will tell you about how batteries work, or perhaps how solar power and motors work. Sometimes they are a little expensive, but if you can grab one on special, put it away for a rainy weekend or holiday.

Item: Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0
Price: $499 – Available in September from Toyworld and Lego stockists
Rating: 4 / 5

Info: Mindstorms NXT 2.0 is the third iteration of Lego’s robotics kitset, and the second version of their NXT range. They’ve pretty much perfected the kit this time around. The addition of a colour sensor and a range of coloured balls creates huge scope for building interactive robots. The provided software is fantastically easy to use, and the kit robots are great fun to play with. You don’t need to know a line of code to make the robots behave, yet you’ll find the process will teach budding developers all about loops and parameters, and also a good deal of debugging and testing.
The box says “10+”, but a savvy six year old will enjoy building the robots with help, and a 10 year old should be able to code some basic behaviour. Of course most 35 year old kids will also hugely enjoy the kit.
My only complaint would be the price, with $500 making this close to the most expensive Lego set money can buy.

Item: Arduino Duemilanove Starter Kit
Price: $99.95
Rating: 5 / 5

Info: When you run out of things that the Lego Mindstorms robots can do, switch over to “real” programming on an Arduino. The Duemilanove is a great starter board, with heaps of inputs and outputs. If you know some very basic programming concepts, you can have a bunch of lights flashing within minutes. Then grab some components and let your imagination run wild. How about a plant pot that posts to Facebook when it needs watering, or a completely autonomous radio control plane? All do-able with an Arduino and some extra bits.

Arduino Hacking for Fun and … Fun

Arduino DuemilanoveThere’s something special about the tangible nature of electronics. Moreso perhaps for geeks and nerds who tend to work with the intangible: maths, software, science. Taking those incorporeal concepts and turning them into physical phenomena – flashing lights, moving servos – unlocks something deep in the geek psyche. Perhaps the toolmaking caveman, repressed by years behind the keyboard?

A few years ago, if you wanted to dabble in such physical indulgences, you generally needed to learn the dark arts of direct EEPROM programming. It’s not impossible, but you tend to be working at a very low level: directly reading and writing from registers.

More recently, the Arduino project has taken a particular class of microcontroller, and wrapped it in a complete, easy to use physical package. Beyond the physical platform, the Arduino project also provides a C-like high-level language, and a handy integrated development environment that will compile and upload your code to the physical hardware.

What this means is that if you know what an if statement does, and you can read a resistor code, then you can make a physical electronic object based on an Arduino. It really is that easy. Within about 30 minutes, using the Arduino board along with a creative kit from local Auckland distributor Mindkits, I had a basic passive infrared alarm set up. Using the included hookup wires and breadboard means no soldering required for a temporary test setup.

If you have a teenager showing an interest in software development, or perhaps you’re looking to learn yourself, then I’d suggest programming physical hardware is a great way to learn. Having the visceral feedback from lights and sounds in response to your code is an excellent confirmation that you’re doing it right. Or wrong! If you don’t know where to start, or you just want a leg-up, Mindkits are running a course in Auckland soon that will get you up and running with Arduino hardware programming in the space of a single weekend.

When you get tired of basic tinkering, the capabilities of an Arduino board are limited only by one’s imagination. Among some of the cool things that people have built based on Arduino include:

And you’re not limited to the chunky form factor of the Arduino prototyping board either. The Lillypad for example sticks the same processor into an attractive circular package, and you can use conductive thread to stitch your hardware into your clothing.

Get hacking! Grab an Arduino Starter Kit from Mindkits today!

Coming Up: Giveaways and Mindstorms

Mindstorms NXTIt’s been a bit ungadgety around here lately, but never fear! I’ve got some cool stuff coming up in the next couple of weeks:

  • Reviewing the new Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 kit.
  • Reviewing the Arduino starter kit from Mindkits.co.nz
  • Giving away an LG HFB-500 Bluetooth hands-free kit
  • Noisy and fast gadgets for Fathers’ day.
  • A new daughter.
  • …and more.

On the personal front, I’m speaking at the PRiNZ Northern networking event tonight, and attending Vodafone’s mid-winter christmas dinner on Friday. It’s a hard life!

Also, a quick plug for my wonderful employers, who are trucking along having yet another incredible year.