Coding/Computer Science Robotics

Trashbots: Affordable STEM Kits Ready to Change the World

Trashbots
Photo courtesy of trashbots.org
Written by Susan Meyer

The TCEA Convention kicks of this week! Check out one exciting group that will be presenting today in our interactive playground space: Trashbots.

If you’re joining us at the Austin Convention Center this week, I want to extend a warm welcome to the 2018 TCEA Convention & Exposition! I also have an excellent suggestion for how to spend part of your afternoon. Come check out the Experience at the Digital Square in the Palazzo today from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. for a demonstration by the creators of a remarkable new company called Trashbots. For those readers who aren’t able to come to the convention this year, read on to learn about an innovative idea that’s turning one man’s trash into STEM treasure.

What Are Trashbots?

Trashbots is a company that is creating affordable robotics kits that let users use anything from their local environment to add to their robot—even things that a less creative mind might throw away. The kits work with open-source platforms and are designed to be accessible—a computer and a continuous power supply are not needed. This makes the kits idea for rural and remote places where STEM learning is limited by access to infrastructure.

Another advantage of the Trashbots platform and accompanying curriculum is that they are scalable across grade levels. Students in kindergarten can use Trashbots to learn the basics of building with the kit without the electronics. In fourth grade, kids can begin to work with tablets to design simple scripts and make the robot move. As one Trashbots founder describes, “You can see their enthusiasm when the program does what they want it to do and the motor functions as intended.” Older students can use existing textual programming languages such as Javascript or Python to code the kit and create even more complex creations. As students develop greater skill and programming knowledge, the kit can grow and adapt with them. Their only limit is their own creativity.

The Minds Behind the Bots

The story of Trashbots’ founders and how the company came to be is just as interesting as the end product. The company was the brainchild of two brothers, Rohit and Sidharth Srinivasan, who are themselves still high school students. Starting from when they were in middle school, they began volunteering and teaching robotics in orphanages in Southern Asia. They also consulted with Science in a Suitcase, an Austin STEM startup that works to bring robotics to underserved communities globally. From these experiences, they learned about some of the limitations of how STEM is taught in developing nations. As students of robotics themselves, when they saw limitations and issues, their immediate thought was “How can we engineer a solution?” This was the beginnings of Trashbots.

The pair partnered with Paul Austin, formerly of National Instruments, who helped them to officially start the company in May of 2016. The company did their first demo at SXSW 2017 in Austin, Texas. Since then, they’ve taken their ideas abroad to provide STEM and robotics help to rural and developing towns. The team made trips to both Mexico and Peru with their products. In Peru, they visited a remote school in a town of 15,000, three hours south of Lima. The school contained around 80 kids, some of whom would walk up to an hour to get there. While the school system didn’t have a lot of money or resources, what they did have were students who were intellectually curious and excited about learning. It is in schools like this where Trashbots can truly shine.

Discover Trashbots for Yourself

If you’re on site in Austin, you will definitely want to check out the Trashbots demonstration today at 2 p.m. in the Experience at the Digital Square. The founders will be on hand running an interactive session and explaining the pedagogical and curriculum possibilities of their robotics kits. You will also get the opportunity to take part in a fun build challenge using the kit. Tablets will be provided for programming the robots and all levels are encouraged to attend!

If you’re not at convention, you can learn more about Trashbots at their website.You can also find details on their IndieGoGo page.

Bargains!

Trashbots is now going into full production and has a great deal on their Indiegogo funding site. You can get the complete Early Bird Maker Pack with the maker kit with pucks, gears, and “trash” for making, along with cool stickers, for just $100. Or, if you want more than one Trashbot for your classroom or campus, you can buy the Educator 5-Pack for $500 or the Educator 10-Pack for $900. I know that your students will love these!

This blog was updated with additional content on May 4, 2018.

 

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About the author

Susan Meyer

Susan Meyer is the Communications Specialist at TCEA. She is the editor of TCEA’s quarterly print and digital magazine TechEdge and is a contributing writer for the TechNotes blog. Her background is in educational publishing, and, prior to working with tcea, she spent the last eight years editing and producing content for digital, educational products. Meyer is the author of over 20 books targeted for grades 5-12 on topics ranging from developing an online brand identity to creating collaborative learning experiences with digital tools.

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