Designing One Little Cube
In the world of STEM careers, one of the areas I’ve always found most fascinating is the design and manufacturing of technology based products. So many issues are involved in the creation of even simple products, and with something like databot™, the complexity is remarkable. If you look closely at databot™, you’ll notice a crystal clear polycarbonate case that has been manufactured with exact tolerances. The click together case when fully assembled is tough as nails. The battery compartment was designed to exactly support the 250mAh LiPo battery so it wouldn’t shake or move when students are putting databot™ through high stress trials. The openings in the base were precisely measured, tested, and refined to perfectly connect with LEGO and fischertechnik parts. They also provide a simple hook design for 3D printed custom connectors and accommodate the easily attached velcro plate. The port openings for electronic expansion, the clever assembly for the switch that makes it accessible but protected, all of these features took hundreds of man-hours and thought to accomplish. Our team knew what we wanted it to do, but the process of creating is a tough one and required many do-overs and lots of frustration and late hours.
Next, the electronics – the design of databot™ is purposely modular. It’s like a miniature computer with a motherboard and 4 daughter boards that slide in. This design provides a lot of flexibility in our future product roadmap as we can easily upgrade boards without having to overhaul the entire system with each upgrade. The clear plastic top and boards were again manufactured to precise tolerances and when the top clicks in, the boards are firmly seated and cannot be dislodged. It makes for a very durable little device with extreme capabilities! Packing 10 internal sensors plus processors, SD card writer, power charging circuitry, BLE, and lights and sound into a cube form factor 42.5mm on a side required deep and rich design experience to accomplish.
Onward to Production!
Daniel Presta is an extraordinary educator that lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A specialist in ICT, robotics, and pedagogy he is passionate about improving learning opportunities for students in Argentina. I had the pleasure of getting to know Daniel this past year and shared the manufacturing processes, capabilities, and vision of databot™ with him. I was delighted when one day a video showed up online in which he had taken a number of crude phone video clips I had sent him of the manufacturing process. Using some fine tuned AV skills he quickly turned them into an awesome video that shows databot™ in production! I’ve already shared it with other educators who are sharing it with students and using it to show off STEM talents in action. Design, testing, manufacturing, improvement – the engineering design lifecycle in the real world.
One of the victory moments in any massive initiative like the design and manufacture of a new product is when it starts to roll off the assembly line and you get to see the real thing in action. You hold it in the palm of your hand and think about the thousands of man hours, the people involved, the meetings, the arguments, the resolution to keep going even when exhausted and frustrated, and you see all of this boiled down into one, tiny cube. It reminds me of the genie in a bottle – there’s a lot inside there! Robert Quaas, our Chief Technology Officer, loves this product and couldn’t wait to start playing with the real thing. As databot™’s rolled off the production line, he created a program to demonstrate the light and sound capabilities of the device, something that students are going to love. The videos here show Robert with a batch of databot™s all programmed with a tone generator and matching light show. He coded this up in minutes, granted, he’s an expert, but it provides a great example of how inspirational a product like this can be with enthusiastic educators.
I’ve been talking about this with our programmer, other educators, and technology enthusiasts about the extraordinary coding opportunities afforded by databot™. This is one of the areas that really sets databot™ apart from all the other dataloggers and probeware systems on the market. You can take full control of this device and do some wild and crazy things! A fun example would be to take the tone generator you’re hearing in this video and program a batch of databot™s to “follow the leader” where one bot generates tones based on sensor input, perhaps light, and all the other bots are “listening” with their microphones. Students would program the “followers” to change their frequencies to match the leader. This kind of activity introduces students to all kinds of concepts including swarm intelligence, communications, and more. Not to mention the STEAM aspect – can you program databot™s to sing in rounds accompanied by a beautiful light show?!
databot™ fans, it’s awesome to see this product coming together! databot™s are now enroute by air express to the United States and we will begin shipping as soon as they arrive. Thanks for traveling this journey with us so far, the next step is to unleash databot™ to educators, technologists, and students and see what kinds of fantastic curriculum, projects, and uses will evolve from this tiny little cube.
About the Author
Robert Grover is a proponent of STEAM education and educational technology that helps engage and develop the students of today into the thoughtful leaders of tomorrow.