There’s a new DIY robotics toolkit in town, and you don’t need to know anything about electronics or programming to use it. HandiMate, developed by researchers from Purdue and Indiana universities, lets children (or anyone else) build robots with cardboard, velcro, and other cheap, easily available materials. They can even control it wirelessly through hand gestures while wearing a glove that acts as a controller. And, according to Kylie Peppler, one of the researchers and an assistant professor at Indiana University, it’s also “gender neutral.”
“It can be whatever color you want it to be,” says Peppler. The idea is to use the kit to teach children concepts in a way that's fun and engaging. The play — the process of building the robot — lasts about 90 minutes, and in that time students use engineering principles that are typically taught in college.
Since the toolkit uses recyclable materials like cardboard, Peppler says it’s cost-effective and accessible for schools across the board.
She thinks the DIY approach is a great way to get kids to think on their own and innovate. During the research, for instance, they found that children often improvised with the kit to make their robots different — Like the 11-year-old who wanted to build one with legs, or the 14-year-old who wanted to mount his robot on a car.
“A more playful approach to learning gets us to redesign and rethink,” she says.