Want to get into robotics? Start with a RoboBrrd

Erin Kennedy, better known by her robot-building alter ego "RobotGrrl," is on a mission to not only get kids and novices excited about robotics, but give them a place to start, too. Kennedy is kicking off a humble crowd-funding campaign to help her project get off the ground, and it's not hard to see why she's already well on her way.

The RoboBrrd, amazingly, started as a pile of "pencils and popsicle sticks." Kennedy was asked by the folks over at Adafruit Industries to create a robot for the site's Ask An Engineer series, and that led her to design the blocky, adorable 'bot you see above. "They sent me some electronics," Kennedy told DVICE in an email, "and so I started making something out of pencils and popsicle sticks, which eventually turned into a robotic bird!"

These days, RoboBrrd is assembled from laser-cut parts that lock into place like puzzle pieces, and comes with its own custom circuit board controller. Kennedy actively encourages users to modify and hack RoboBrrd in any way they please. "Will you make your RoboBrrd have jet packs?" Kennedy asks on her Indiegogo campaign. "Go for it!"

From start to finish, building a RoboBrrd will walk you through some basic but essential robo-skills, such as soldering and wiring. Once it's assembled and wired, you will be able to have it to flap its wings and work its beak, but that's just the start. In the video below, Kennedy demonstrates how RFID-enabled hats can be used to activate different functionality in RoboBrrd — put a top hat on it, say, and it'll perform a certain programmed action. Even beyond that, RoboBrrd can be configured to do anything with a little know-how. We asked Kennedy what a more advanced project using RoboBrrd looked like, and she said:

"Feeding them over a Google+ Hangout is a great example of an advanced project. The tech behind the scenes is quite involved, touching on cloud computing, javascript, websockets, and some processing code. The end result is really fun to use. During our Robot Party we are usually controlling a robot or feeding the RoboBrrds food! I actually wrote a tutorial for this and posted it on RoboBrrd's site here. Some people have tried it and made it work!"

On Indiegogo, Kennedy is hoping for $10,000 to get her RoboBrrd off the ground, and is already over halfway to her goal. For $114, you can get yourself a RoboBrrd kit that includes its chassis and electronic guts; $170 means a fully done-up Brrd, "programmed with a fun dancing routine" to boot. If you're rather handy already, you can even just build you own RoboBrrd from scratch with instructions from Kennedy on Instructables.

We'll leave you with some words of wisdom from Kennedy, in response to our asking if she had advice for folks just getting into robots:

"Don't be afraid to break stuff, and use whatever resources you have! Learning robotics is a very fun and long process. You never stop learning about robots. You'll ruin some motors over time, but you'll figure out a way to repair your robot to the way it was. Your robot is pretty much like your friend. It might malfunction, but you can be there to make it better!"

RoboBrrd on Indiegogo, via RobotGrrl

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