Here's How You Can Learn to Build DIY Robots and LED Cubes

Thimble teaches people to code, build and hack with monthly electronics kits.

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Feb 2 2016, 8:45pm

Courtesy of Thimble

Many people may know how tweak and hack their smartphones to optimize them. But few people have even a basic understanding of electronics—namely, how software controls digital or analog circuits, which in turn control hardware components. Makerspaces and hackathons attempt to teach these skills to novices in a DIY way, but one has to make an effort to actually visit these spaces. A new company, Thimble, is taking quite the opposite approach. Founded by Oscar Pedroso and David Brenner, the subscription-based business offers monthly DIY electronics kits so that people can learn hardware in the comfort of their own homes.

Pedroso and Brenner first came into contact on Hacker News. Realizing they only lived 30 minutes apart, they met at a cafe, where they soon realized they both belonged to a couple local makerspaces and several maker-type meetups. Through these groups, Pedroso and Brenner realized that people wanted to understand how hardware and software integrate in electronics, but didn’t know what to build, lacked the parts to do so, and didn’t have the knowledge base in a somewhat centralized location. Once the idea coalesced, they raised funds on Kickstarter, where they told supporters the first electronics kit would be a wifi-enabled robot built on an Arduino circuit board.

Courtesy of Thimble

“We wanted our first kit to be something fun that people could relate to—the thought of a robot/RC car does just that,” Pedroso says. “Build it, program it, and make it move with your phone. That's really what we're going for: blending hardware and software to make things functional.”

“The wifi connection is important,” he adds. “You program the Arduino to talk to the wifi module. This allows it to connect to your wireless network and receive commands from the internet to make the robot move.”

The electronics components of the robot kit include the Arduino, a wifi module, and a breadboard (a board for making an experimental circuit). To assemble the robot car, subscribers get a wood platform, two motors, two wheels, a wheel caster, battery holder, headers, jumpers, a cable, and nuts and screws. While "DIY" might seem to imply a certain degree of experimentation, Thimble’s angle is for the novice to learn the basics of electronics.

Courtesy of Thimble

“Experimentation is what we're all about but we also want you to learn the fundamentals,” Pedroso says. “This is why we offer the learning app so you can log on and follow instructions in case you have no idea what you're doing. At the very core, we built this for beginners.”

After people worked on the DIY robot, Pedroso and Brenner discovered a few things. Some people unboxed the kit, logged onto the app, and followed the directions to the letter in order to play with it. Others sought to push the envelope a little bit by adding some of their own components, such as sensors and LEDs so the robot lights up when it hears a sound.

“Others may add sensors to make it dodge obstacles in its path,” Pedroso says. “We love this because it gets people thinking about how technology works. The more creative, the better. We consider this group daredevils.”

Others use the components to assemble their own version of a wifi robot, which ends up looking nothing like Thimble’s original. Pedroso says they’re in the process of building a community where Thimble users can share their projects. They also plan to hold contests where the community can vote on the most innovative works.

While new users can still work on the wifi robot, they can also get started on Thimble’s latest kit—a LED cube. The cube is made of of six 4 x 4 LED matrix boards. Pedroso says that once the boards are soldered together to create a 3D structure, users can control every LED's brightness with the Arduino and a three-port device.  

“There are no complicated circuits or additional components,” Pedroso says. “Users can freely control every single LED's color and each pixel of the three primary colors.”

In the near future, Thimble is planning on offering electronics kits for a robotic arm, a quadcopter, a custom 3D-printed HCI device, and a solar panel, amongst others. Click here to stay up to date with Thimble’s latest electronics kits.

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